Blue Chip co-founder behind property investment scheme in Australia, writes Phil Taylor

Bankrupt Mark Bryers is using the name Mark Ryan to run a business in Australia with many hallmarks of his failed Blue Chip property investment group which left more than 2000 investors with losses of more than $80 million.

The operation is fronted by a Sydney businessman who is listed as the sole director and shareholder of the businesses in the group but the Herald has learned that he works part time for the company and that Mark Bryers is running it under the name of Mark Ryan.

Complaints claiming the group has not honoured debts and tax obligations have been made to Australian authorities. According to a complaint to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Bryers is the beneficial owner of 51 per cent of the company, with five partners splitting the rest.

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Bryers is listed as "general manager" on internal documents of Talos Accounting Group obtained by the Herald, an apparent breach of his bankruptcy conditions which prohibit him from being a director or manager of a company here or in Australia.

Bryers was bankrupted in October 2009 owing $230 million and in 2010 he was convicted of 34 financial-reporting breaches. He was sentenced to 75 hours' community work and fined $37,500, which was reportedly paid in 2012.

The Herald understands he has not made any contributions to his creditors.

Bryers is banned from being a director or manager of a company in Australia under reciprocal legislation applying to bankrupts, a Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment spokesman confirmed. He is also banned from running a company until May 2015 under a different section of the Companies Act.

Another Talos document outlining its structure describes Bryers' role as "strategic" and apparently reporting to Stephen Lacy who is listed as sole director and shareholder.

Records filed with ASIC record that Mr Lacy holds shares "beneficially" for others.

"It's like a puppet show," a source close to the company said. "Bryer's keeps in the background. He pulls everyone's strings."

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The terraced apartment in Sydney where Blue Chip founder Mark Bryers lives. Photo / New Zealand Herald / Jason Oxenham

When the Herald asked this week why he was using the name Ryan, Bryers promptly retreated inside his Darlinghurst home. A staff member at Talos' offices on Circular Quay closed the door when we asked to speak to Bryers.

A public relations firm acting for Talos last night provided this unsigned statement:

"Talos Accounting confirms that Mark Bryers (also known as Mark Ryan) is not, nor has ever been, a shareholder or director of Talos Accounting. Whilst Mark Bryers undertook various management roles, at no time was he responsible for managing the company.

Mark Bryers was engaged as a consultant via his employer by Talos Accounting. That consulting arrangement came to an end on 15 August 2014 and he is no longer engaged by the company in any capacity.

Talos Accounting was aware that Mark Bryers was working under the name of Mark Ryan in order to not draw attention to himself, given the intensity of media attention his name draws. Talos Accounting was aware of Mark Bryers' history in New Zealand. However we felt this was not material to the consulting services he provided to the company."

Mr Lacy did not respond to the Herald's visits to an unrelated company where he works most of the week, or to a visit at 8.50pm to his home. His wife claimed he had gone to bed.

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The Herald has also learned that:

• the Australian Tax Office is investigating complaints that Talos has failed to meet its superannuation payment obligations.
• the company has failed to pay the full amount for at least one accountancy practise it has acquired.

According to the source, Australian-registered Talos Accounting Group's three-year goals are to acquire 100 small accountancy firms, achieve a turnover of $300 million and launch on the Australian stock exchange. A key part of the company's strategy is to pitch property investments to the clients of the accounting firms it acquires, a hallmark of Blue Chip.

Lang Pringle, a Blue Chip investor, said it was "absolutely stupid" that Bryers was able to run a similar operation in Australia. "It's absolutely unbelievable that this sort of situation can be allowed to carry on."

He and his wife, Aileen, lived on their pensions while they fought a Supreme Court group action to win back their deposits on apartments. They won the case but still ended up losing 15 percent of their money - about $90,000.

Mr Pringle said the Serious Fraud Office and Financial Markets Authority did not do enough, although the SFO said it was hampered because documents were missing.

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"No one wanted to respond to us. Politicians didn't want to hear from us, the legal profession were effectively making money out of us and everyone was running for cover."

Rick Mandelson told the Herald that Talos paid an initial deposit for his company, Rick Mandelson and Associates, in Mittagong, south of Sydney, but defaulted on the first instalment of the balance. He estimated he is out of pocket about A$300,000.

Mr Mandelson said Talos had presented a property investment scheme to be pitched to the accounting firm's clients.

Bryers - as Mark Ryan - was involved in managing the deal and acted as Talos' legal representative, Mr Mandelson said.

"We didn't know he was basically running show or anything about his background."

A former staff member of one of the accountancy firms acquired said most of the staff resigned after Talos gave them three days to sign new contracts with a different entity and extended restraint clauses.

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Staff were worried they wouldn't be paid super owed to them and the source said she was uneasy about pressure to push wealth creation products on to clients.

She said the man she now knows as Bryers had introduced himself as "Mark Ryan, general manager of Talos".

People are normally discharged from bankruptcy after three years but the Official Assignee objected to Bryers being released. Bryers has this year applied to be released.

His application to be examined by video link from Sydney was yesterday rejected by Associate Judge Jeremy Doogue, meaning he will be required to appear in the High Court in Auckland.


Gold Fields House, a commercial office building in Sydney where Blue Chip founder Mark Bryers has office premises. Photo / New Zealand Herald / Jason Oxenham

Bryers has not changed his name with New Zealand Births Deaths and Marriages but people who have lived in Australia for three years can change their name there. A spokeswoman for the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages said privacy laws prevented it divulging name-change information.

While it is not illegal to use another name, only legally-changed names can be used on contracts.

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Bryers was a co-founder of Blue Chip property investment company, which targeted people concerned about funding their retirement.

After leaving New Zealand, Bryers was associated with Northern Crest Investments Ltd, formerly Blue Chip Financial Solutions Ltd, which was listed on the Australian stock exchange. Its shares were suspended following the collapse of Blue Chip in New Zealand.

Lawyers acting for the liquidators of Blue Chip raided Northern Crest's Sydney offices after failing to get the company's cooperation.

"We broke into their premises with Federal police and recovered what we could of the records, noting that they had already destroyed much of the records," said Kensington Swan partner Daniel Hughes.

The company's computers had been wiped and sever removed, two full shredder bins and boxes of documents were ready for removal.

Mr Hughes said although Bryers was not a director of Northern Crest, "it was clear from the board records that we have that he might as well have been".

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The liquidators are not taking recovery action against Northern Crest because of a lack of funds for litigation, he said.

Laurie Eakin was Northern Crest's executive director. He is currently running Talos along with Bryers and others associated with Northern Crest.

According to Talos internal documents its management team includes Bryers (using the name Ryan), Eakin, Robert (Bob) Hughes, Anderson Vago and Martin Mulder, who are understood to be beneficial owners along with Mr Lacy.

Talos has loans with St George Bank, Delphi Bank and National Australia Bank.

Accounting firms it has acquired include:

• Broadview Accounting, Erina NSW
• LBS Chartered Accountants, Gladstone QLD
• Rick Mandelson & Associates, Mittagong NSW
• Ross, Cowley & Co, Mittagong NSW
• William McKell, North Lyneham ACT
• Team Accounting Solutions, Redcliffe, North Lakes, Narangba, Boondall QLD
• Taubenschlag & Associates, Canberra ACT

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Bryers' track record

2001

: Goes broke over apartment developments, creditors' claim to be owed $44 million.

2008: Blue Chip property investment group collapses owing $80 million to more than 2000 small investors. By now working for Blue Chip's Australian arm, Northern Crest Investments.

2009: Declared bankupt with debts of $230 million.

2010: Banned from being a director or manager until May 2015; SFO says insufficient documentation found to lay charges over Blue Chip.

2011: Northern Crest wound up by liquidators who execute "search and seizure" court orders on Sydney offices, find the server had been removed, computers wiped and shredder bins of documents ready for removal.

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2012: Bankruptcy extended after Official Assignee objects to his release, Talos group of companies registered with hallmarks of Blue Chip operation, Bryers begins using the name Mark Ryan.

2013: Pays $37,000 fine imposed three years earlier for 34 financial reporting breaches.

2014: Applies to be released from bankruptcy, hearing date pending; Australian Tax Office investigating Talos Accounting Group, complaint made to ASIC about company's operation.