Business reporter for the NZ Herald

SFO probes property development firm

Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel, Auckland City. Photo /  Brett Phibbs
Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel, Auckland City. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Serious Fraud Office is investigating a property development company that built two central Auckland apartment towers.

The now-defunct company Emily Projects developed the Celestion Apartments on Auckland's Anzac Avenue.

The SFO confirmed today it had an investigation underway regarding Emily Projects.

The probe was being conducted under part of the law where the SFO has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed.

The SFO would not comment any further.

One of the Celestion Apartment owners, Tan Lee Lin, went to the High Court last month to keep Emily Projects on the Companies Register.

Lin said she and others were given a rental guarantee by Emily Projects which has not been met, causing "significant losses for all apartment owners".

While Emily Projects' liquidators, Timothy Downes and Greg Sherriff, did not want to delay winding up the company until the SFO had finished its investigation, Lin pushed to keep it on the register.

Lin said that if Emily Projects' director, Leonard John Ross, is shown to "have acted fraudulently or improperly in breach of his duties" the apartment owners as creditors of the company intend to pursue an action against him or intend to seek an order requiring the liquidator to pursue these claims.

Justice Christian Whata said in his decision this month that he was satisfied that Lin has demonstrated a "legitimate interest" in keeping the company registered, namely to enable any claim or action based on the outcome of the SFO investigation.

"I am concerned, however, to avoid leaving EPL [Emily Projects Ltd] and the liquidators in an indefinite limbo while the SFO investigation is being completed - it not being entirely clear what stage the investigation has reached or will reach," the judge said.

Although he said that Emily Projects should stay on the Companies Register, this order would only last six months.

Another creditor of Emily Projects, according to Justice Whata's decision, says he has reason to believe that Ross fraudulently obtained funding for the development of Celestion Apartments. The creditor, Blair Brooks, said that he also had reason to believe that Ross used company funds to build his own house near Auckland's Cheltenham Beach.

Ross said today he "absolutely" denied all the allegations and would "strenuously defend" them.

He noted that the allegations had been fully investigated by Emily Projects' liquidator.

"He found there's no truth whatsoever to these allegations," Ross told the Herald.

Emily Projects' first liquidator, Christopher Horton, said in a March 2014 report that "allegations of misconduct" had been looked into.

"As a result of the extensive investigation work undertaken, the liquidator is satisfied that the allegations of misconduct are without foundation," Horton said.

Horton resigned as liquidator later that year and Downes and Sherriff took over.

Downes and Sherriff presented their final report to the Companies Office last October and said investors had claimed $2.89 million from the firm and two other creditors had claimed $671,000.

These creditors had been paid $420,310, a return of 11.8c in the dollar.

- NZ Herald

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