Forum figure grilled on assets

Westpac alleges improper fund movements, asset disclosures

Forum figure grilled on assets

Vincenzo Tesoriero, business partner of Forum Group boss Bill Papas, has been forced to appear in the Federal Court to answer questions about suspicious funds transfers.

Papas and Forum are accused of using forged signatures and phony documents to defraud Westpac and other banks of around $500 million in loans. Papas fled to Greece last year.

Westpac, which is attempting to claw back around $300 million it says Forum stole, alleges that Tesoriero is one of the masterminds behind the fraud, The Australian reported.

On Tuesday, Westpac senior counsel Jeremy Giles SC alleged that Tesoriero or someone else with access to the money was moving funds around despite a freezing order on the account. Giles said that payments were being made out of accounts – often several times a month – that were seemingly not in accordance with the regular mortgage payments they were claimed to be, The Australian reported.

However, Tesoriero – called for the first time to give evidence in the Forum case – said the transactions were made to settle a mortgage. Tesoriero said it was normal for payments to be made multiple times a month.

Westpac and Tesoriero are at odds over Tesoriero’s bid to access $1.8 million to fund his case against the bank, The Australian reported.

Separately, liquidator McGrathNicol alleged that Papas and Tesoriero used the proceeds of the alleged scam to fund their lavish lifestyles. The Federal Court issued a warrant for Papas’ arrest after he was found to have violated the freezing order by transferring $720,000 to a cousin.

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Despite telling the court he would return to Australia, Papas has remained in Greece. He has not appointed a new lawyer to represent him after being dumped by his last lawyer, Rocco Panetta.

Westpac and Tesoriero clashed earlier this month over his application to access further funding for his case. Tesoriero said his fight against the bank has cost him more than $780,000 in legal fees.

No decision was reached on Tesoriero’s application, with Federal Court Justice Michael Lee saying he needed a clearer picture of the former Forum director’s assets before making a decision, The Australian reported.

Westpac has also blasted Tesoriero’s past disclosure of his assets, stating that he had previously failed to declare a boat moored in Florida and other holdings.

Giles noted on Tuesday that Tesoriero, who had previously claimed assets worth $60.7 million, had failed to disclose an account with $150,000 in it. Tesoriero told the court he didn’t see the funds as an asset, since they were intended to go toward loan repayments, The Australian reported.

When asked if he had other undisclosed accounts, Tesoriero said “there would be money in other bank accounts, most definitely.”

Westpac also questioned Tesoriero’s valuation of his assets, noting there was several million dollars’ difference between the values he had presented to property business contracts and those he presented to McGrathNicol liquidators.