Melbourne, May 30: An Indian businessman and his wife on Monday launched the largest legal action in the state of Victoria, seeking more than $2.5 billion in compensation from the Australian and New Zealand Bank.
The billionaire founders of Burrup Fertiliser Pankaj and Radhikha Oswal were allegedly forced the sale of their business for far less, under “duress”.
The Oswals accused the ANZ of underselling shares in their West Australian fertiliser company after it was seized by receivers.
Opening the case in Victoria’s Supreme Court today, senior counsel for the Oswals, Tony Bannon SC, told the Supreme Court of Victoria that his clients’ 65 percent stake in Burrup Fertilisers was sold for $400 million in 2010.
Bannon said he will demonstrate to the court that the true value of the couple’s shares was in fact $990 million.
“Our evidence will demonstrate the current value is in the order of 2.36 billion Australian dollars,” he said.
The Oswals allege ANZ and PPB undervalued their share of the plant by $1.5 billion. They argue that their stake in Burrup was sold on the cheap to cover a $900 million loan from ANZ instead of for the $2.5 billion they say it was worth.
Bannon said that ANZ Bank and receiver PPB worked together to ensure the business was sold for a base price to another of Burrup’s shareholders, Norwegian group Yara, rather than for the highest price.
“The receivers made it clear to anyone who would listen that their sole purpose was to close out the debt,” Mr Bannon said.
Bannon claimed that it was not only a breach of selling any asset rule 101 but also a breach of the duty of the receiver.
Oswal claims he was bullied by ANZ executives during the sale six years ago, alleging that one executive put him in a headlock and threatened to “destroy” him before Burrup went into receivership.
The Oswals found themselves in significant debt last month when the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) issued a departure prohibition on the couple over an unpaid $136 million tax bill.
A $50 million house dubbed the “Taj Mahal on the Swan River” was left half-completed by the couple when they were forced to sell their share in Burrup as well as a luxury jet worth tens of millions of dollars and a fleet of luxury cars.
The flashy entrepreneur and his socialite wife’s house meanwhile remains abandoned in a half finished pile, which has been ordered to be demolished by the local council this year.
The couple arrived to a lot of fanfare in Perth in 2005 and millions were put into their Indian-pride project of their expansive residence, in Perth’s upscale suburb of Peppermint Grove; but left Perth in 2010 after receivers were appointed.
While the couple now based in Dubai, deny any wrongdoing, they are accused of having taken more than $100 million for personal use from entities associated with the fertiliser plant and his wife has been accused of dodging a $136 million tax bill.
The trial has already cost tens of millions of dollars with 25 barristers appearing in court on both sides on Monday.
It is expected that the complex trial will run for between three and six months.
Ramakrishna VenuGopal with agencies