The Australian School of Business and Technology, a Sydney private college offering courses to overseas students, has closed its doors after nine years leaving teachers and about 800 students in the lurch.

It is the latest failure in the privately owned business college sector which recruits fee-paying students from India, China, South-East Asia and the Middle East to study English and courses in computers and business.

The timing could not be worse for Councillor Nick Berman, the mayor of Hornsby, a northern suburb of Sydney, who faces the voters for re-election on Saturday.

Berman, a former Howard Government staffer, was until last month the chief executive of the school and a director of the company which owns it, Atozed International Pty Ltd, which is now listed by ASIC as “externally administered”. The firm switched its registered office from Bathurst Street in the CBD to the rural charms of Bowral on the Southern Highlands in July. Berman told Crikey this morning:

I went on leave from ASBT on August 4, and resigned two weeks later due to other commitments. This was confirmed in an email to VETAB approximately two weeks ago. I am still fielding the odd inquiry from students and staff who I am trying to assist in any way I can.

The school’s immediate issues are paying outstanding salaries to staff and reimbursing students who have paid upfront fees.

The politically ambitious Berman has attracted attention as a possible federal or state Liberal member of parliament. A rabid Howardite, he has tried for pre-selection in the state seats of Hornsby and Epping but failed both times, and with the decline of the party’s hard right his chances of securing a parliamentary career look bleak.

Berman is as also associated with Power Education, a flashy sports education business which attracts students from India and Sri Lanka to improve their cricketing skills.

He is still listed as its principal executive officer and sits on Power Education’s governing board with the Indian-born accountant Avinash Nichkawde whose CV boasts “many years of business management experience across various industries”.

It’s website reveals that its two ambassadors are Brad Haddin, the test wicketkeeper who recently succeeded Adam Gilchrist, and the top performer in women’s cricket, Lisa Sthlekar.

Nichkawde is the head of Atozed Financial Services, a firm which offers “24-hour tax refunds” and markets itself as a “maximum legally allowable refunds specialist”.

In a recent open letter to present and future clients, he wrote that he was slimming down his once 7000-client practice and creating a “a small and good team” to “provide my clients with utmost personal service.” And he added:

If you go to the Sydney CBD street address looking for me – as per the fraudulent promotion in some letters you might have received — you will not find me there.

Many of you must be wondering as to what I and my team has been up to these last few years. Since there are many rumors circulating, I take this opportunity to inform you that I’m the current Chairman and founding director in several companies including Australian School of Business and Technology, Power education and Australian Job and Student Services.

With engaging humility he concluded:

Please assure your family and friends they will only be dealing with me and that they can be assured of the highest standards of professionalism, expertise, confidentiality and trustworthiness.

His signature appears at the bottom of the letter alongside his mobile number.

Peter Fray

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