Opes Prime manipulation

Fresh allegations of improper transactions and market manipulation have emerged in the Opes Prime fallout.

Trading in the shares of Challenger Financial Services Group in early March has come under the spotlight, as have the alleged underworld links of WA resource firms that were once clients of Opes.

The claims come as administrator Ferrier Hodgson seized control of key entity Riqueza and began forensic examination of the firm’s dealings. On Tuesday John Lindholm of Ferrier Hodgson said Riqueza, registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, was the “linchpin” into investigations surrounding irregular Opes deals.

Attention is being focused on the transactions between Riqueza and two private firms linked to Opes Prime directors – Leveraged Capital and Hawkswood Investments.

Preliminary investigations into the books of Riqueza have raised questions over the sale of a large parcel of shares in Challenger Financial Services Group on 10 March by known Opus client, Sydney QC Chris Murphy. Murphy sold 15 million shares worth $25.5 million as the director of Cardiac Jolt, and duly informed the ASX he was ceasing to be a major shareholder (5% of the listed shares).

The sold stock was then held in Riqueza, a conduit for the private interests of Opes directors Laurie Emini, Julian Smith and Anthony Blumberg.

Though Murphy informed the ASX of the sale, the identity of the buyers was unknown due to the masking function of Riqueza. This is significant because the ultimate buyers, Opes directors, held existing Challenger Financial stakes and were required to disclose substantial shareholding notices to the ASX. That announcement never came. Such information may have depressed the share price of Challenger Financial, triggering possible margin calls.

The Australian Financial Review reports the Challenger Financial sale was done via an off-market crossing where large lumps of shares are transferred without affecting the price.

The dramatic fall in the Challenger Financial stock price over the past six months was instrumental in the collapse of Murphy’s leveraged portfolio – one of the six problem client accounts at the centre of the Opes failure.

Challenger Financial share price
Source: ASX

The allegations of market manipulation are not limited to Challenger alone as the full fallout of the Opes failure surfaces. The Age has raised questions over the influence of organised criminal groups on our financial markets and services.

At the centre of the claims are WA firms Golden West Resources and Fairstar Resources, which were both clients of Opes Prime. The smaller Fairstar launched a hostile takeover bid for Golden West in September last year.

The Australian Federal Police are investigating whether sensitive information relating to the takeover was leaked to known underworld figure Mick Gatto. He has already been in the headlines this week with his “collection” mission to Singapore on behalf of unknown Opes clients.

Perth underworld identity John Kizon will face insider trading charges from the Australian Crime Commission later this month.

An anonymous insider told The Age: “For ASIC to say organised crime is not involved in the sharemarket is just ridiculous. If ASIC can’t conduct a criminal investigation and the police don’t want to do it, then who is left?”

If all that wasn’t enough drama and Hollywood fanfare for the day, then there is also the case of the luxury cars discovered by Opes receivers and administrators. Millions of dollars worth of Maseratis, Ferraris and Lotuses were found in the asset hunt by Ferrier Hodgson and Deloitte.

It appears that Hawkswood Investments, run by the three Opes directors, was diversifying and attempting its hand at importing prestige European cars – bequeathing a Maserati to none other than Chris Murphy.

So there you have it – offshore tax havens, unscrupulous share dealings, shadowy mining firms, wise guys and lavish sports cars – the Opus script is at least rich. It just needs a leading lady.


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