Singaporeans victims in Australian Ponzi scam

Over 950 invested in 'property developments'; firms wound up under Aussie court order

One victim lost $20,000, another more than $300,000, while a third pulled out his $43,000 when he suspected something was amiss.

They were among more than 950 Singapore-based investors of a A$100 million (S$107 million) Ponzi scheme in Australia, involving 18 firms controlled by Australian Veronica Macpherson that were ordered to wind up last month.

Justice Michael Barker of the Australian Federal Court said: "The evidence points strongly to the conclusion that the defendants form part of a group of companies which have raised in excess of A$100 million from private investors by way of an apparent Ponzi scheme."

The judge, in decision grounds issued last month, added that the companies' methods showed "there is a need to ensure investor protection, and a real risk to the public interest that warrants protection".

The scheme urged investors to put money into property developments in Western Australia's Pilbara area, including Newman Estate.

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

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission, which led the winding-up move in court, 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 of which were 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

Many Singapore victims The Straits Times spoke to were retirees, like Mr Chan, who declined to have their identities disclosed.

Mr Chan had put in $20,000 in 2015 through Singapore-based Macro Realty Developments. Funds were collected from investors over four payments in 2015 .

He said interest payable for the 12-month tenure varied between 14 per cent a year for sums up to $49,000 and 16 per cent for $50,000 and above.

"Those who invested $100,000 or more were given free trips to the site area in Australia," he added. He lodged a police report in March last year after Macro defaulted.

Police declined comment as investigations are ongoing.

Said a female corporate executive who had invested in the scheme for long-term gain: "I am distressed and devastated, and trusted too much in the system."

Yet, others pulled out their sums in time. One investor named Mr Ho parked A$40,000 with Macro Realty Developments after hearing Ms Macpherson promote the Newman Estate investment in 2013.

He told ST: "Macro Realty Developments guaranteed monthly returns in the project. For a few months, I got my money. And then the hiccups came."

Red flags were raised when the company told him anti-money laundering requirements by the Australian government would delay returns.

By 2015, he had opted out, pressing Macro Realty Developments to return his money. And it did.

"Unfortunately, other Singaporean investors who faced the same problems as I did were encouraged to reinvest their money on more pricey property developments for larger monthly returns," said Mr Ho.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'S'poreans victims in Australian Ponzi scam'. Subscribe