Michaels' con netted $3m: Crown

By Edward Gay

Prosecution winds up case against accused conman, who will give evidence in his own defence next week

Much of the money is unable to be traced as Michaels operated with cash and had no bank accounts or credit cards in his name. Photo / Chris Gorman
Much of the money is unable to be traced as Michaels operated with cash and had no bank accounts or credit cards in his name. Photo / Chris Gorman

Loizos Michaels took over $3 million from his victims, who included casino executives and owners of luxury apartments, says the Crown.

The prosecution case against the former Auckland restaurant owner and accused conman finished yesterday after 50 witnesses were called including rugby star Jonah Lomu and the National Party's president, Peter Goodfellow.

On Monday, Michaels enters the witness box in the High Court at Auckland to give evidence in his own defence.

Throughout the six-week Crown case, Michaels has scribbled notes which are handed to his lawyer, Peter Kaye, by the security guard seated alongside him in court.

The notes are read and placed next to the pile of typed court transcripts that has slowly grown to more than 1500 pages.

Michaels has denied 31 deception charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office. His evidence could take much of next week.

The court has heard from witnesses who have spoken of Michaels' plans that included a takeover of Auckland's SkyCity Casino, casino developments at Gulf Harbour, a casino at Wellington Railway Station and an online gambling website named after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.

Also in the mix was a polo club in Macau, an international kick-boxing competition to be fronted by Lomu and the purchase of luxury apartments on Lake Taupo's shore.

Despite none of the deals going ahead, the Crown says Michaels convinced people that the ideas were genuine and that they should invest.

Witnesses have told the court that Michaels insisted on cash and in many cases asked for the money to be handed to a third person.

Michaels was allegedly seen with wads of $100 notes. Australian film studio executive Phillip Oates said he lost over $130,000 to Michaels and that it was not unusual for Michaels to tip people $50.

Peter Arbuckle had been the gaming manager at Christchurch Casino but told the court that he resigned after being promised a $1.5 million salary to help Michaels' backers from Macau in their takeover of SkyCity.

Mr Arbuckle was also convinced to generate investments for an online gambling enterprise called Aphrodite International. He eventually made payments totalling over $1.4 million, which included sums of cash from others he brought into the venture. One of the payments was for $88,000 in cash which he had in a plastic bag.

Yesterday the court heard from SFO forensic accountant Blair Bullock, who said he was unable to trace much of the money because it was withdrawn in cash.

He said Michaels had no bank accounts or credit cards in his name and had no source of income.

Mr Bullock said he was able to trace some of Michaels' spending on luxury cars. A total of $197,000 was spent on four BMWs and, according to sale and purchase agreements, over $166,000 was paid in cash.

But some of the money ended up in a bank account linked to Michaels' estranged wife Caroline Wood and her company Trades R Us.

The court has previously heard from luxury apartments co-owner Janet Jackson, who was convinced to buy 12 of the Taupo apartments from her business partner before on-selling them to Michaels.

Mrs Jackson said Michaels told her his money was in a Belgian bank account and his backers needed some security. He convinced her to make seven payments worth more than $353,000 to ensure the sale went ahead.

Mr Bullock said that because the money was paid into a business account controlled by Ms Wood, it could be traced. He said $101,800 was withdrawn in cash, while a further $90,000 was transferred to an account in Ms Wood's name. Over $57,000 was used to pay rent on Michaels' Ponsonby Rd restaurant Plato's Taverna.

Mr Bullock said he also went through the business account for Plato's but the account rarely had over $5000 in it. Exactly where the rest of the money went is not known.


Big plans

The Crown says Michaels' fictitious schemes included:

• A takeover of SkyCity Casino with backing from Ho family of Macau.

• A casino development at the Wellington Railway Station.

• A casino and apartment complex at Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland.

• A polo club in Macau.

• Buying 12 luxury apartments on the shore of Lake Taupo.

• A film studio and stunt academy on Australia's Sunshine Coast.

- APNZ

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