S'pore police probe firm run by Aussie

Its alleged Ponzi scheme got $119m from investors for property, 981 of them S'poreans

SYDNEY • The Singapore police are investigating a firm controlled by a businesswoman alleged to be behind a suspected Ponzi scheme in which mainly Singaporean and Malaysian investors handed over A$110 million (S$119 million).

The probe into Macro Realty Developments by the police's commercial affairs branch was revealed in documents tabled in the Federal Court by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), said Australia's ABC News.

When contacted by The Straits Times, the Singapore police would only say: "It is inappropriate to comment on police investigations."

But ST understands that the police are investigating the company.

According to documents cited by ABC News, the company controlled by 37-year-old Veronica Macpherson allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme, encouraging investors to put money into property developments in Western Australia's Pilbara, including the Newman Estate.

Ponzi schemes usually have little or no real investments or assets, with investor returns financed by money from later investors.

In this case, returns as high as 18 per cent were reportedly promised, but these places were not developed or only partially developed.

The commission alleged that more than 1,700 investors lent Macro Group firms almost A$110 million between July 2014 and March last year, and received interest payments - almost all made using the money from new investors.

When Macro did not have enough new investors to meet its expenses, including interest bills, it stopped the payments to investors, leading to the collapse of the Ponzi scheme, according to court documents.

The scheme had 981 investors from Singapore, 651 from Malaysia, 58 from Britain, 17 from continental Europe and 31 from Australia.

Mr Peter Ling, a Malaysian real estate agent who went to a Macro seminar in Kuching in 2015, told ABC News it "painted a very colourful picture" of a strong Pilbara economy and its demand for housing.

Ms Macpherson is being probed by the ASIC for potential offences of stealing, fraud and forgery, said ABC News. She had denied running a Ponzi scheme.

Some overseas investors were reportedly swayed by a video filmed in the Western Australian Parliament featuring a politician.

A source familiar with the company told ABC News that to many Malaysian and Singaporean investors, the video of Ms Macpherson with former Western Australia Nationals leader Brendon Grylls suggested that the scheme was approved by the region's government.

Many of the Malaysians had lost their life savings, the source added.

With the collapse of the investment scheme, Ms Macpherson's financial services licence and passport were cancelled last year, said ABC News, with the last of her active Australian companies wound up by the Federal Court this week.

An appointed liquidator said creditors of the companies were owed more than A$200 million - which would likely rise as interest accumulates on certain loans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore police probe firm run by Aussie'. Print Edition | Subscribe