Man who 'lost millions' takes witness stand

A NOOSA businessman who has allegedly been defrauded of millions has detailed to the court how he came to hand over huge amounts of cash to keep the sale of his family's historic Yalanga property rolling.

Wilhelmus Jacobus van Zetten, now nearly 70 and having sold his Suncoast Pipelines and Pastoral company, told the court he wasn't interested in the alleged fraudsters' deal when they first approached him offering to buy Yalanga Station nearly a decade ago.

Mr van Zetten told Crown Prosecutor Jason Robson he had first dismissed interest from Nexis Holdings directors Rahoul Ray and Erwin Walter Filler in buying the Kin Kin cattle and produce property after putting it out to tender at the end of 2007.

At that time it was valued at around $22 million by Herron Todd White, but the court heard before the property's sale to Nexis in 2010, it was valued at about $15 million. It was later sold for $4 million in possession of the Commonwealth bank.

The Nexis directors are accused of duping Mr van Zetten and his wife Maureen into trading the multi-million dollar farming property for 'worthless' shares in Nexis (which floated on the Frankfurt stock exchange) and are facing eight counts of fraud each.

The Crown alleges the pair also dishonestly induced the van Zettens to make payments of $900,000 to the Commonwealth Bank and more than $1 million in stamp duty, among others, telling the couple a need for a bridging loan had arisen, as well as demanding payment of a brokerage fee.

The Vietnam veteran told the jury he was put off by Mr Ray's offer to purchase the landmark property, which ran cattle and grew corn, soybeans and sorghum, because it was a 'half cash, half shares deal'.

However, he said reeling from a GFC hit, and encouraged by his real estate agent telling him of similar purchase arrangements between Nexis and a Gympie macadamia nut farm, the offer began to appear viable, one the couple ultimately agreed to.

The jury was presented with large manila folders of evidence and highlighters to keep track, as the prosecution waded through reams of emails, letters and negotiation documentation with Mr van Zetten in the witness box in Brisbane Supreme Court yesterday.

They heard how always having been a "bricks and mortar man” who had made a business of rescuing run-down farming properties, Mr van Zetten said before the failed endeavour with Nexis he had never owned shares.

The van Zetten family's Suncoast Pastoral Company previously received over $5 million towards the purchase of Yalanga in regards to the deal. The $5 million cash went to paying down bank debt. The rest of the negotiated sale price was paid to the couple in shares in Nexis.

Mr van Zetten said Mr Filler told him when he met with him and his wife at a BP Roadhouse in Burpengary to discuss the proposed deal in 2010, that Nexis floated on the stock exchange with the issue of one billion shares at 10 euro cents and had risen to about 1.05 euros. He was told there was an expectation the shares would continue to accrue about one euro a year in value.

He said he was told about huge contracts in China and that Nexis, in the business of turning waste into building panels, was in the process of constructing factories worldwide.

He said it was consistent with the outlook expressed by promotional materials that he'd viewed from Nexis. Mr van Zetten said he and his wife also watched the price of Nexis shares rise using independent information, before agreeing to allow a purchase with stocks.

While acknowledging the van Zettens had more than $11 million in debt to Westpac, which they hoped to pay off with the sale of Yalanga, Mr van Zetten said he was not under any financial pressure from the bank to make a sale, as he had about $40 million in assets and was servicing the debt.

He told the court he'd made the decision to sell Yalanga as he was getting older and had worked hard in civil construction and, "was tired, I'd had enough”.

"They put a compelling proposal forward that they were readily tradable shares,” he said.

However, he realised he had reason for serious concern when his shares, which he had been promised would be sold for agreed value in March 2011, were not.

The trial will continue into next week, with defence expected to commence cross-examination of Mr van Zetten.

- ARM NEWSDESK


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