Blue Chip investors' hopes fade

After three months of searching the records of the 21 Blue Chip companies in liquidation, liquidator Jeff Meltzer said last week that he had found no pot of gold or secret bank accounts.

The New Zealand Herald
May 18, 2008

Blue Chip investors' hopes fade
Jane Phare

Hopes of a reprieve to save thousands of Blue Chip investors, some faced with bankruptcy and losing their homes, are fading fast.

After three months of searching the records of the 21 Blue Chip companies in liquidation, liquidator Jeff Meltzer said last week that he had found no pot of gold or secret bank accounts.

Nor has Blue Chip co-founder Mark Bryers fronted with funds he had indicated could be available to bring some short-term relief to stricken investors this month.

Last week, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it was launching full investigations into Blue Chip and collapsed finance company Bridgecorp.

The SFO said it would investigate many issues in the Blue Chip probe, including money for yet-to-be-built apartments not being held in trust accounts, investors discovering apartments they had invested in were owned by other people and many investors having to settle on properties they never intended to buy.

The Blue Chip collapse involves about $80 million and 2000 investors.

Meltzer, encouraged by Bryers indicating funds could be available in late last month or early this month, urged desperate Blue Chip creditors to negotiate a mortgage holiday with their financiers and bankers to stave off forced mortgagee sales.

But that stay of execution is up and Meltzer said no money had been forthcoming from Bryers, nor was there any indication that it ever would be.

"Obviously we are getting close to the middle of May and I have got nothing that I can announce."

Asked if the money was supposed to come from one of Bryers' other companies Meltzer said: "That's what I'm not sure about. That's what I was waiting to hear." He had been in "fairly regular" contact with Bryers about the money but nothing had come of it.

"I can't comment as to what his reasons are at this stage."

The news will dash hopes for thousands of Blue Chip investors, many of whom are faced with selling their Blue Chip apartments and their homes. Where there is still a shortfall, some will face bankruptcy.

Bryers has also said $25m might become available in 18 months, but that depended on the outcome of a development. That project is thought to be a five-star resort Bryers is planning to build at his Gulf Harbour Country Club and golf course at Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland.

Critics say Bryers is playing for time but Meltzer questioned why Bryers would have raised the possibility of money if he didn't plan to follow through. Bryers would have been better to "keep quiet" if he didn't mean it.

Now based in Sydney, Bryers was still answering questions by email, Meltzer said. "If I need to speak to him on various matters he is generally pretty contactable."

Also helping Meltzer with his inquiries is former Blue Chip director and shareholder Neil Bell who, with fellow director Rikki Flowerday, was left to face angry creditors at two creditors' meetings in March. Bryers didn't show, an offence under the Companies Act.

The 20th floor of Qantas House in Auckland's Queen St, where Blue Chip's head office was based, has been gutted and the foyer directory board is blank. Bryers' lawyer John Walters, a former Blue Chip director and shareholder, is still on the 23rd floor but has a new partner, Warren Butterworth, and a new website. The new partnership, Butterworth Walters Lawyers, is described as a "boutique" law firm.

In the meantime, Meltzer and his team are slowly piecing together a complex web of companies in an effort to find where many millions of dollars have gone, a process which would take "many, many months".

A lack of money is slowing the process. Meltzer said the investigation could fall over simply because of a lack of funds to pay for what would be a "long and expensive" job.

The Blue Chip liquidation was different from that of a finance company where money was usually available to "get in there boots and all".

The lack of money means Meltzer and his team are having to pick and choose which areas they look into. With adequate funding, the liquidators would be looking into 10 different areas but only two or three were open.

"And we are not going to ask investors for money," Meltzer said. "I know others have."

Meanwhile, a second registered valuer is facing a complaint over a valuation on a Blue Chip apartment.

This year two complaints were laid with the Valuers Registration Board against Tony Kidd, of PRP Auckland, over valuations of two Blue Chip apartments, one in Auckland's Quay Park and another in Halsey St (Lighter Quay). Last month a complaint was laid against a second valuer, involving a Blue Chip apartment in Auckland.

The offences carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine plus costs or being struck off. Kidd said in a statement from his lawyer in March that the company was confident the valuations reflected the market value at the time they were done.

Bryers selling Aussie property schemes
Blue Chip's Mark Bryers has split with his wife and is forging a new life in Sydney.

Bryers is selling property investment schemes to Australians based on the Blue Chip model, and pursuing plans to build his dream golf resort at Gulf Harbour.

Life in New Zealand had become increasingly difficult, with thousands of angry Blue Chip creditors baying for blood.

Bryers, who has a taste for expensive European cars, was caught driving over the limit last August and lost his licence for six months. In addition, he faced High Court claims for debts involving $16 million.

He has already had summary judgement issued against him in one case, involving $85,000 interest on a $3m debt, and could be bankrupted.

Now Bryers, who has separated from his wife Shirley Wijma, is based permanently at his office in Sydney's trendy Walsh Bay, a series of redeveloped wharves and warehouses near the Harbour Bridge.

His New Zealand mobile phone no longer works.

From Bryers' first-floor office, he can see the harbour bridge.

Across the road are Piers 8 and 9, part of a redevelopment that saw the rundown area turned into hot property - a hip area of restaurants, apartments, businesses, arts and culture and shopping.

It is from this base that 50-year-old Bryers is selling property investment schemes to Australians under Sydney company Barkley Walsh, a subsidiary of ASX-listed Northern Crest Investments. (Northern Crest was previously Blue Chip Financial Solutions.)

So similar are the schemes that Barkley's website still referred to Blue Chip, something that has been corrected since a story in the NZ Herald earlier this month.

Sources say Bryers owns his penthouse apartment in inner-city Sydney. A former Blue Chip IT manager, working in Auckland, remembers being flown to Sydney to install a computer network at Blue Chip offices in Walsh Bay in 2004.

He was also taken to Bryers' harbour-view apartment to help tune a new home entertainment system.

Bryers' wife, who runs the upmarket carpet company Source Mondial in Parnell, confirmed to the Herald on Sunday that she was "no longer married to Mark".

Bryers did not respond to messages by phone and email to his Sydney office. However he answered questions by email to this month's golfing magazine The Cut, saying the financing of Gulf Harbour had nothing to do with Blue Chip. "It was always a private purchase by my family interests."

Bryers told The Cut the sales programme for the project was "being conducted overseas".

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