The company behind Mark Vaile’s “moonlighting” earlier this year on a trip to Dubai has been linked to telephone scams banned by ASIC.

Servcorp provides business office accommodation and virtual office services throughout Australia, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. Former Trade Minister Mark Vaile attracted controversy with his “Vaile of Arabia” trip to Dubai in March on behalf of Servcorp. Vaile also travelled to Singapore as a guest of Servcorp in early May.

Following an anonymous tip-off, Crikey examined the business addresses of a number of telephone scammers listed by ASIC. We found that ten of them — Allied Pacific Ventures, Blane and Blanchett, Chelsea Commercial Brokerage House, Eastman Johnston, Eno Capital, First Independent Capital Resources, Greer Fox Yamato, Hanworth Weir, Howell Schine and Co, Kearns Investments and Stamford Financial — operated from the addresses of Servcorp office facilities in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Dubai.

Using virtual offices such as the type provided by Servcorp means these companies could actually be anywhere in the world. There is no suggestion that Servcorp had any knowledge of the businesses conducted by some tenants.

Typically, the companies, which operate under sturdy sounding names similar to those of established legitimate firms, are “boiler rooms” that cold-call people to offer high-return investment opportunities, frequently in stocks that are eternally gaining in value. Any money “invested” by those conned by the companies is never recovered. The companies are frequently linked to organised crime. The ABS has estimated that in 2007, over 100,000 Australians were the victims of phone, email and other financial scams.

We called those businesses for which ASIC listed phone numbers, but either there was no answer or the businesses had moved on.

Servcorp’s executive director is Alf Moufarrige. Both Servcorp and Moufarrige’s company Sovori, which is the largest shareholder in Servcorp, are generous donors to the Liberal Party, together contributing a total of more than $700,000 since 2000, as well as some other more personal donations. Moufarrige was appointed by Alexander Downer to the Council for Australian-Arab Relations.

Moufarrige told Crikey that anyone not operating a bona fide business from Servcorp premises would be kicked out within 24 hours, regardless of contractual issues. Servcorp has over 20,000 clients and has improved its vetting process continually as it has expanded, and recently was the first serviced office provider to install Deloitte’s anti-money laundering AML Check ID software to properly vet all applicants. According to Moufarrige, apart from ripping people off, scammers could inflict significant reputational damage on Servcorp and building landlords and endanger leases.

Mark Vaile is currently on family holidays overseas and could not be reached for comment.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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