Pickering faces new evidence

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caption: cartoonist Larry Pickering

Larry Pickering.

Cartoonist, bankrupt and failed businessman Larry Pickering has always claimed he had nothing to do with a sports-betting software scheme that fleeced hundreds of investors of millions of dollars.

”I feel sorry for people who lost money, but I had nothing to do with it,” Mr Pickering told a newspaper two years ago.

But new evidence suggests Mr Pickering was using secret offshore companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and managed in Hong Kong to channel funds generated by the software scheme. The documents were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which has published stories this year that have rocked the world of private banking.

The 70-year-old Pickering, who has recently devoted himself to writing defamatory blogs about the prime minister, has 11 children to five women and lives in a waterside mansion on the Gold Coast.

Emails and company documents generated by his accountants – Portcullis TrustNet, a global firm that specialises in trust schemes in tax-free countries – reveal his companies were referred to the Hong Kong police because unhappy investors wanted their money returned.

Software vendor Cohen Strachan Investment failed in 2010. Its sports betting software was faulty and customers reported that they believed their betting accounts were being manipulated or didn’t even exist.

The scheme, which included a Hong Kong arm, was reported to the Queensland and federal police.

In an October 2006 email, a Portcullis employee, who had helped administer Mr Pickering’s offshore companies, confirmed to colleagues Mr Pickering’s involvement.

”I believe the companies were all involved in the same business, which I think was selling PC software over the net,” he wrote.

”I understand the companies had some complaints from customers about the products. The customers wanted their funds returned and complained [to] the bank … The bank returned the funds. LP [Larry Pickering] disputed whether the bank should have returned the funds.

”ADL [Azure Dene Ltd] and SHL [Soft Holdings Ltd] have also been the subject of a request by the HK [Hong Kong] police for information … I believe the police request for information was related to the customer complaints.”

The documents show Mr Pickering’s secret offshore companies also owed a total of $HK200,357.94 ($26,870) to five overseas companies, which sent debt collectors across the globe to hunt for him. He is listed as ”the beneficial owner” of Cable Tower, Azure Dene and Soft Holdings, all incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Portcullis documents. His signature is on the companies’ registration documents, seen by Fairfax Media.

Two other key documents are letters from Mr Pickering’s lawyer demanding money held in Cable Tower accounts be transferred directly into personal accounts held by Mr Pickering.

A Portcullis email said: ”Amazingly LP [Larry Pickering] now claims that he is not and was never the beneficial owner of ADL and SHL … This is contrary to what LP has previously told us.” A Portcullis manager referred his staff to an email he had written to Mr Pickering: ”I think it is time to get tough,” he said. The email admonished Mr Pickering for the outstanding debts.

When Fairfax Media listed the companies to Mr Pickering, he said: ”Never heard of it. I’ve got no offshore stuff, mate.”

He later said he had some Hong Kong companies, but ”that was back in the ’90s”. When told the documents date from 2006, he said, ”I don’t believe that’s the case”.

”When I started a company in Hong Kong, I’m pretty sure it was something to do with, you had to be operating outside Hong Kong to take advantage of the 15 per cent tax,” he said. He tried to use an analogy to explain the British Virgin Island companies: ”You’re in Hong Kong and making boots and you sell them to America. Then you’re not liable for tax because you’re a foreign company and you’re not selling to Hong Kong people.”

He said he ”didn’t know” if he had benefited from the companies. ”I remember a few problems with accounts there but that’s all I recall about it. Of course I paid all my tax,” he said.

Do you know more? investigations@smh.com.au


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Article source: http://www.theage.com.au/national/pickering-faces-new-evidence-over-failed-scheme-20130615-2ob7f.html

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