The following article was published in the Australian Financial Review. Anthony Warner of CRS Insolvency Services was interviewed by the Australian Financial Review for his role as a trustee of Craig Gore.
No sanctuary for disgraced developer Craig Gore
From fast cars, helicopters and high-risk developments to a guilty verdict and the prospect of up to 12 years in jail.
Where did it all go wrong for the former rich lister?
Top of the heap: In his boom days Craig Gore worked on projects across the country. His operations also included financial services, racing, even wine exports. Rob Homer
Craig Gore, the cocky developer who once owned his own race-car team, sat stone-faced in the defendant’s dock on Tuesday as he was found guilty of defrauding investors. Six times.
Gone was the grin, the navy fedora and aviator sunglasses Gore had sported when approaching the trial. There was no more scribbling of notes with a flashy gold pen or furious tapping on the keyboard in his court defence. Instead, the Gold Coast entrepreneur, whose fortune was valued at $189 million in the 2007 Young Rich List, remained impassive.
Earlier, though, his guard slipped, as he appeared anxious sitting with lawyers outside the Brisbane District Court. That’s not surprising. Gore is facing serious jail time. And it’s quite a comedown for someone who was once so rich he sported Cartier watches and aggravated his local council by flying his private helicopter too often.
Mike Gore, a failed “white shoe brigade” developer in Queensland.
But Gore has always attracted controversy. His father Mike was a failed “white shoe brigade” developer (a moniker for aggressive 1980s Queensland businessmen). Craig also faced financial difficulties including reaching one of Australia’s biggest personal insolvency deals, agreeing in 2010 to pay just $3.3 million of a $495 million debt.
Eight years later, Gore was on trial for investor fraud after tapping Australians, who had their life savings in self-managed superannuation funds. Gore pushed those investors towards high-interest, short-term debentures or property while working at a financial advisory outfit. While he promised products that were “capital guaranteed”, the company ultimately did not repay their money.
Six of 12 charges stuck this week; Gore was found guilty of defrauding $345,000 knowing the money was unlikely to be repaid.
While it sounds like small-fry for Gore, it marks the first criminal conviction for the long-running Australian Securities and Investments Commission target.
Now the question is why a man known for his developer nous has engraved himself into the ranks of corporate scoundrels such as Qintex’s Christopher Skase. Gore complains he’s a victim of ASIC wrongdoing. But, given his potholed corporate record, maybe he just kept making bad choices.
Just north of the neon lights and thumping clubs of the Gold Coast’s “Glitter Strip” is an exclusive development called Sanctuary Cove. Roadside gates there prevent riff-raff from entering.
Whitney Houston performing at Sanctuary Cove in 1988. Elizabeth Dobbie
Sanctuary Cove’s developer was Gore’s father Mike, a bull-shaped man so coarse that Craig once recounted his dad setting fire with a lighter to a fellow passenger’s hair on a Hong Kong flight. “Just having a bit of fun with this bloke’s hairstyle,” Mike reportedly told his son.
The elder Gore launched Sanctuary Cove in the “Ultimate Event” in 1988 featuring singers Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston. Mike’s fortunes did not rise, however, and in 1992 he moved to Canada owing $25 million. A heart attack killed him in 1994.
Craig, born in 1967, grew up with his mother in a housing commission estate in Sydney’s Villawood as his parents had divorced while young. He later moved north to live with his old man, and blamed his first bankruptcy in 1992 on his father’s financial disasters.
It took seven years before the younger Gore extracted himself from that bankruptcy – a later creditors report, obtained by AFR Weekend, said it had been extended beyond the typical three years with Gore engaging “in misleading conduct where the amount exceeds $3000”. He ultimately paid 11¢ in the dollar to creditors owed $300,000.
Craig Gore in the high times, when he was a V8 race team owner. Robert Rough
Yet Gore was back by 2002 building a residential development, Aurora, next to his father’s Sanctuary Cove. Aurora was controversially marketed to adults with body corporate rules banning children being unsupervised in public areas. A chunk was offloaded to Australand in 2003, with his Atkinson Gore Group reaping a reported $90 million profit.
Gore worked on projects across the country from Victoria to North Queensland. Business, for a brief time, was good. His operations included financial services, racing, even wine exports.
With his business empire expanding, Gore picked up Rich Lister trinkets: his father’s 70-foot luxury cruiser Prego, a Bombardier/Challenger 604 aircraft, V8 Supercars and an EC130 jet helicopter. In 2006, the council complained his helicopter was flying four times a day when not even allowed daily flights. “We’ve got a bunch of belligerent idiots debating a helipad rather than dealing with infrastructure and employment,” Gore complained then.
One person who discussed business briefly with Gore remembers his office having inspirational historical quotes on display and being put off by the developer’s arrogance. It was before the global financial crisis, when property developers could easily tap high-priced debt, and such entrepreneurs loved risk, says the person.
Another who worked with Gore describes him as someone who “does nothing but work”. Gore can co-ordinate developments and excels at sales. “He can put the charm on,” the person tells AFR Weekend.
In 2010 Gore owed UK billionaire Michael Ashcroft’s Mayfair $138 million. Reuters
But something manipulative lurked.
“He’s just got this streak in him where he f–ks everyone over,” the person says.
The GFC felled many property-exposed entrepreneurs. Gore’s reign ended when second-tier lender City Pacific despatched receivers on Atkinson Gore Group entities in 2009 over $145 million. Gore retaliated with a $300 million damages claim.
Some potential assistance came when UK billionaire Michael Ashcroft’s investment arm acquired ventures from Gore-associated businesses. It was not enough and Gore brokered an extraordinary debt restructuring deal in 2010.
The controlling trustee estimated Gore had $471,000 in assets for unsecured creditors, including a Cartier Sports watch worth $2400 and a bust of Renoir valued at £30,000. But Gore owed $495 million, mostly in personal guarantees. Creditors included American Express seeking $17 million; Bank of Queensland $1.9 million; and Lord Ashcroft’s Mayfair $138 million.
Gore offered to repay a piddling $3.3 million over three years plus issue 30 per cent of a personal trust’s units. A report by a later trustee, Anthony Warner of CRS Insolvency Services, pointed out Gore was late on numerous repayment deadlines. Creditors dissolved the deal and Gore went bankrupt in 2012.
Gore is not popular with regular bankers. So he has fossicked in another deepening cash stream: SMSFs. The Australian Taxation Office noted 197,000 SMSFs held $55 billion in 1999, which jumped to 600,000 holding $748 billion by June 2019.
According to a Federal Court civil case brought by ASIC against Gore and other finance businesses, the entrepreneur met a man in 2011 whose business was establishing 10 SMSFs a week. Gore allegedly said the businessman was “not aware of the ‘gold mine’ on which he was sitting”.
The SMSFs were involved in investing in distressed properties. But the court found they became entangled in schemes that sent money Gore used himself; he even was the “driving force” to establish companies in the British Virgin Islands to avoid Australian regulations.
Scott and Helen Bruce’s investments suffered at the hands of Gore. The entrepreneur was “very persuasive”. Attila Csaszar
ASIC alleged SMSF investors lost almost $4.5 million in the fallout.
“It must … have been obvious to [Gore] that most of the clientele [were] small investors who did not on any view satisfy the description of ‘sophisticated investors,’ ” Justice Richard White ruled in 2015.
“The consequences of Mr Gore’s conduct are serious as superannuation savings of a large number of SMSF investors, including those with limited savings, appear to have been wholly lost.”
Gore was permanently banned from financial services, after being found to have breached Corporations Act regulations about issuing securities without a disclosure document. ASIC argued: “There is a very real risk that left unrestrained, Mr Gore will engage in like activity in the future, especially as there was no recognition by him of the wrongfulness of his conduct”.
But it was too late for investors in this latest criminal matter. They too were SMSFs, dealing since 2013 with Arion, a financial services firm overlooking the peaceful Southport broadwater. Investors were people such as Scott Bruce, a then Virgin Australia pilot, who with his wife Helen invested in debentures – high-interest, short-term loans. They had spoken with “Craig” at Arion.
“We were getting frustrated that our SMSF wasn’t achieving anything,” Bruce told court. “This seemed like a reasonably safe, short-to-medium term investment. Craig … was very persuasive. He made you think that you could trust the information.”
Gore arrives at court. Attila Csaszar
One investment they made was for $25,000 at a 6.25 per cent interest rate to be repaid in 120 days. But their money was not returned and Craig uncontactable.
Ultimately a substantial portion of the Bruce family’s superannuation was ensnared – enough that they had to change retirement strategy. “This caused many sleepless nights, arguments with my spouse and stressful life-changing decisions,” Bruce tells AFR Weekend.
Other investors were similarly deceived. One recalled Gore telling him Arion was a “large international company [with] millions of dollars in funds”, a spiel the court ruled “deliberately false”. An Arion director, surprised that Gore was telling investors they could earn 8.5 per cent returns, recalled the entrepreneur saying: “That was the only way I could get people to invest”.
Most investors got nothing back from Arion – but the court heard some victims had cash returned years later by ASX-listed IOOF Holdings, because its associated entity My Adviser had let Arion be a licensed representative.
During the trial, Gore was like a focused professional, taking notes in proceedings and politely asking security for tissues. He wore a wedding band; his wife is in her native Sweden with their two children. (He also has two children from an earlier marriage).
The image of a well-behaved Gore contrasted with coarse demeanour at work, according to former colleagues, and the rough text messages displayed in court, such as when he complained to a bookkeeper about pay not arriving: “You should have told me … I have spent that f–king money already.”
Prosecutor Michael Copley QC outlayed evidence alleging Gore knew of Arion’s precarious finances and had engaged in dishonest conduct because he raised money despite knowing investor cash was unlikely to return.
Gore, who never gave evidence but declared his innocence, hired barristers Mark McCarthy and Tony Glynn QC. One defence argument was the debentures were merely agreements to repay money and Arion could spend the proceeds however it saw fit. Another explanation was Arion was projected to bring in profits, so Gore could not be dishonest in relying on those assumptions.
Justice Michael Byrne, overseeing a rare jury-free trial, was unconvinced.
Confident yet angry
Byrne wrote Gore knew “there was no real prospect [Arion companies] had the capacity to repay … the money”. A sentence is due next month with the maximum jail term 12 years under Queensland’s then Criminal Code.
Gore, first arrested in 2017, has not seen his family since February last year. While on bail he worked as a consultant in ventures from a funeral company to a Gold Coast property development, along with vodka, spring water and disposable batteries projects. He’s long railed against ASIC, accusing the regulator and media on his blog of “intentionally” distorting facts.
Twice Gore agreed to interviews with AFR Weekend before the verdict. He sounded polite, reasonably confident yet angry over the phone. He cancelled both meetings.
In the minutes after the verdict, Gore murmured to lawyers before guards escorted him to underground cells. Given his track record, maybe he’s planning another comeback.