Melbourne, August 24: After allegations of racism, manhandling and “orphan” threats, the brash billionaire Indian couple Pankaj and Radhika Oswal have managed to get ANZ talking – for settlement.
The Oswals will now go into mediation talks for the second time, with ANZ over a claim of $1.5 billion and separately $2.5 billion in damages. Many believe that ANZ has been drawn into settlement talks – with high chances of resolution, given the explosive revelations by Oswals.
The legal case had resulted from the $2.5 billion forced sale of Burrup Fertilisers business in 2012 by ANZ, which the Oswals claimed corresponded to less than half the actual value and thus, short-changed them.
The ANZ accused Oswals of misappropriating $150 million of Burrup Fertilisers money for mansions, luxury cars and Mrs Oswal’s vegetarian restaurant chain, Ontario.
This latest development came about after Mrs Oswal in her duress case against ANZ, told the court, week prior, that ANZ’s chief legal officer Bob Santamaria had threatened the couple “jail” and that their children “would be orphans” if she didn’t sign a guarantee over their shares.
She testified that in meetings in 2009, the counsel for ANZ had told Oswals’ lawyer: “Do you realise that both of them could go to jail and their children would become orphans?”
Earlier, Mrs Oswal had admitted to the court that Pankaj Oswal had defrauded ANZ with ‘forged letters of support from European banks’ in order to secure an additional funding of $1 billion in 2009 from ANZ.
After the forgery by Pankaj Oswal emerged, the ANZ then sought guarantees from Mrs Oswal.
Mrs Oswal claimed to the court that ANZ had arm-twisted her into signing a guarantee over $US568 million in debts to prevent her husband going to jail for fraud over falsified security documents.
The Victorian Supreme Court heard Mrs Oswal giving evidence: “There was no other way out. I had a gun at my head.”
Mrs Oswal claimed that Chris Page, chief risk officer at ANZ, told her there were people at the bank who believed she was also involved and she too could go to jail.
Then came the explosive evidence – that Mrs Oswal signed the guarantee after Mr Page made an ‘exchange pledge’ not to report Mr Oswal to the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority and the police.
Mr Oswal understandably had wanted to keep his ‘role in the fraud’ under wraps, but surprisingly ANZ was an equal player in the secrecy deal, according to Mrs Oswal’s testatment.
Despite her making it clear that she did not want to be liable for her husband’s debts, Mrs Oswal was pressurised into signing guarantees.
This evidence by Mrs Oswal made ANZ’s commercial decisions look bad – allegedly not making much of its fiduciary and more so of its regulatory requirements.
Mrs Oswal also alleged manhandling by ANZ chief risk officer Chris Page with Mr Oswal at the Melbourne meeting.
The Court heard that Mrs Oswal witnessed physical altercation between Oswal and Page on December 20, 2009.
“His [Mr Page’s] arm was around Pankaj, around his shoulders, and he was towering over him…. as soon as I saw this he stopped… Pankaj was very red-faced,” she said.
Mrs Oswal believed that her husband was shaken by the alleged altercation and she perceived that as “an effort to intimidate Pankaj and put me in a corner. He was looking at his feet. I have never seen my husband like that”.
The Oswals left Australia in 2010 after the ANZ called up its loans and brought in receivers.
After the Oswals returned to Australia, in April this year, ANZ has been at the receiving end –
- from allegedly racist emails about Oswals from ANZ risk officer Chris Page to former chief executive Mike Smith who had allegedly remarked “what a bunch”.
- Then came the accusation that ANZ senior executive had Mr Oswal in a headlock; and
- more arm-twisting with “orphans” threat for Mrs Oswal into signing a guarantee, to safeguard her children.
- Mrs Oswal even alleged that some bank documents, purported to have been signed by her and produced by ANZ in court, had never been signed by her.
“I had no role, I did nothing for any of this,” Mrs Oswal said.
Mrs Oswal also claimed that her signature on company documents were ‘not hers’.
“No, it’s not my signature … Because the end of the A in my name is, and the L at the end of Oswal is made in a clockwise fashion and I’ve always used anti-clockwise, even though my signature has changed a lot over time, I can make out very clearly this is not my signature,” Mrs Oswal said.
The signature on the guarantee over her shares was also not hers, Mrs Oswal told the court.
“I understand it involved my husband but that doesn’t make me liable for his problems,” Mrs Oswal said.
ANZ has denied it pressurised Mrs Oswal into signing the guarantee.
- Meanwhile, Oswals have settled in an undisclosed agreement with US giant Apache Energy, which was alleged to have benefited from the receivership of Burrup Fertilisers.
- Yara Pilbara, a shareholder in company and also accused to have benefited in the deal with ANZ , is also expected to announce settlement with Oswals.
- Oswals have been reported to be already in talks with ATO for their already largely discounted tax bill of $32 million.
Given the explosive evidence against ANZ by Mrs Oswal, it is more likely that mediation with ANZ will eventuate successfully for the Oswals, which will be used to pay off the ATO bill, reduced from a whopping original $190 million.
Such is the name of the game – if the mediation is successful, is also unlikely that Oswals’ will be facing any penalty for the financial fraud committed by Pankaj Oswal.
Justice Julie Dodds-Streeton has set the matter down for the mediation to progress.