It’s
a story too good to be true. After a legal stoush spanning 14 years,
71-year-old Greek immigrant Stan Stergiou has beaten off an attempt by
world’s biggest bank to repossess his Canberra cream-brick home – even
though he hasn’t made a single payment on his $160,000 mortgage since
1991.

In making his decision, Canberra judge Ken Cripsin called
Stergiou a “legal missile” and couldn’t resist playing up the
similarities between Stergiou and Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle.
“The proceedings have been protracted, torturous and attended by a
comedy of errors sufficient to inspire the producers of the 1997 film, The Castle, to consider making a sequel,” Justice Crispin is reported in today’s Financial Review.

But
this is more than a case of life imitating art – Stergiou beat far
worse odds than his fictional counterpart. Kerrigan had a lawyer.
Stergiou represented himself in court against Citibank. English was
Kerrigan’s first language, Stergiou’s is Greek. And while Kerrigan had
his health, Stergiou is a 71-year-old diabetic who says he’s got “one
foot in the grave” and gets up at 4am most mornings to check his
glucose levels.

Which is why he was up this morning at 6:30am when producers from A Current Affair and Today Tonight
were on the phone begging him for exclusive rights to his story. He’ll
be talking to Ray Martin tonight, he told Crikey. “I’ve had phone calls
from other media. Channel Nine asked me not to abandon them. They tried
to get the story with Ray Martin. I said I’d to it.”

Stergiou said he hasn’t seen The Castle
but he was pleased by Justice Crispin’s comparison: “He did it the same
way? Good on him. You get very few people among us to stick to their
guns. Citibank had no basis, no claim.”

Stergiou said he took
out the mortgage on his home after his travel agency collapsed. He
stopped making mortgage repayments when Citibank debited his accounts
for amounts that he hadn’t authorised. A 14-year legal battle ensued as
the bank tried to repossess his house. It ended when Stergiou went to
court to try to file some documents and discovered the part of Citibank
taking legal action against him was a deregistered legal entity.

“When
I sent a letter, and took an affidavit and documents to the court to
file, the registry refused me and accused me of doing the wrong thing,”
he said. He said he didn’t know it at the time, but he’d just won his
case.

“All proceedings for or against a deregistered company
are a nullity,” found Justice Cripin, the judge who also presided over
the controversial murder case at the centre of Helen Garner’s latest
book, Joe Cinque’s Consolation.

“Justice Crispin I think
is a wonderful man,” Stergiou told Crikey this morning. “Within five
minutes he’d chucked them out at the door.” And athough the fight is
putting a strain on his marriage – Stergiou and his wife are fighting
for the first time in more than 40 years – he’s not finished with the
people he calls “these untouchables in Sydney” yet. He’s now pursuing
Citibank for damages.

“I want to tell all the families out
there to beware of banks. They’re merciless, they’re gutless, they’ve
got no Christianity in them.”

And Australia’s best know celebrity agent, Harry M Miller, writes:

It’s happened again… “life imitating art.” I’m sure the producers of The Castle
could write a script for this. There are lots of sub-plots and although
there are lots of good lawyers there are also lots of dumb ones who
need to invest in digital hearing aids from Videx so that they can
accurately listen to what their clients are saying. I don’t think there
is a full length movie in it, but there is certainly a half hour
comedic docu-demo staring Stan himself. The old story that reminds us
all to take a close look at the paper work and flag some critical
dates. Good on you Stan.

Peter Fray

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