PALMER CAUGHT UP IN 'DESPERATE' RUSE AS TWO CHARGED

Written on the 19 December 2014 by Nick Nichols

PALMER CAUGHT UP IN 'DESPERATE' RUSE AS TWO CHARGED

CLIVE Palmer has been labelled an innocent victim of a "desperate" and "elaborate" ruse that has been played out in Singapore and Indonesia to coerce a National Australia Bank executive into altering testimony he gave in a $68 million civil lawsuit.

Police have alleged that Palmer's public relations consultant Andrew Crook played a pivotal role in the ruse which was planned in the wake of former Gold Coast high flyer and BreakFree founder, Tony Smith, losing a civil action he brought against NAB in 2012.

Also charged is Gold Coast private investigator Mick Featherstone, who has been on the radar for Taskforce Maxima which brought the charges following a lengthy investigation.

The three men are charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, attempted fraud and retaliation to a witness, each of which carries a maximum of seven years in prison.

The elaborate scheme, which has stunned Queensland police for its depth of planning and execution, is alleged to have been designed to arm Smith with fresh evidence in his ongoing civil action against NAB.

Smith is suing the bank for $68 million over margin calls by NAB on his shares in collapsed Gold Coast funds manager MFS in 2008. Smith owned the shares after MFS took over his BreakFree holiday group for $225 million in 2005.

In the wake of the MFS collapse, Smith made headlines after selling his unfinished mega-mansion on the Gold Coast to failed Brisbane tech entrepreneur Daniel Tzvetkoff for $27 million.

He has been living in Bali since then and reportedly rebuilding his fortune through resort development and management.

His civil case against NAB was dismissed, but police allege the scheme to target the NAB employee, a key witness for the defence in that case, was hatched in Queensland and implemented in Singapore and Indonesia.

"This is probably one of the most elaborate and desperate schemes I have come across in 35 years of policing it reads like a Hollywood script," says Detective Inspector Phil Stevens from Taskforce Maxima.

Police allege that the NAB employee was lured to an interview for a fictitious job as a global finance manager with an international company linked to Palmer.

Police allege Featherstone used a false identity and Crook used his media company links to make the job offer "appear as the real deal".

"We will allege the real reason was to extract a confession from the bank employee and make him retract and change his evidence which he gave during a civil trial in 2012 in the Supreme Court of Queensland," says Taskforce Maxima's Detective Superintendent Michael Niland.

Niland is at pains to emphasise that Palmer is not party to the investigation "in any way shape or form whatsoever".

"In essence he is a victim of the circumstances of this case where his name has been used by the three offenders in an effort to lure our victim, the NAB executive to the island in Indonesia," he says.

Niland also has quashed any rumours of political undertones to the investigation, which he says took root following an ABC investigative report on Featherstone which unearthed new information.

Stevens, who led the operation, says the plan was constructed in two parts firstly through a fictitious interview and then through "coercive means to force the confession".

Police allege the NAB employee "was searched, his wallet, mobile phone and passport seized and held during the duration" of his interview in Indonesia. Stevens says the confession was extracted over "some hours".

Crook and Featherstone appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court today for mention.

Smith is understood to have agreed to present himself to authorities and is said by Niland to be planning to return to Australia to answer the charges.

Attempts have been made by Business News Australia for comment from Crook and Featherstone.


Author: Nick Nichols

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