Feb 4, 2013

High-flying investor Oliver Curtis could land with a thud

Oliver Curtis -- a former Bachelor of the Year who settled down with a high-flying Sydney PR queen -- has now been charged with conspiring on insider trading. It could be a heavy fall from the social set.

Adam Schwab — Business director and commentator

Adam Schwab

Business director and commentator

It's positively titillating, the story that's rocked the Sydney social set: two attractive young men, educated at Sydney's finest establishments, a tragedy in the vein of Dumas or F. Scott Fitzgerald, all coming unwound in the public eye. John Hartman was sent to prison more than two years ago for insider trading. The son of wealthy Sydney obstetrician Keith Hartman, John had been detected by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission "front running" shares -- that is, he would purchase or sell contracts for difference (CFDs -- effectively a highly leveraged contract on an asset). Hartman was sentenced to more than four years in prison, the harshest sentence ever handed down for insider trading in this country. He served his (later reduced) sentence in a grim facility alongside murderers and war criminals. If that were the end of the story we probably wouldn't ever hear of John Hartman again. The scion would join his brother's property development business and most likely live a relatively quiet life. For instance, few would recall the name Simon Hannes, the Macquarie employee who served 20 months in jail for insider trading back in 2000, or even high-flying stockbroker Rene Rivkin who went to prison for insider trading in 2003. But Hartman alleged (possibly in an attempt to reduce his sentence, or possibly because he didn't want to shoulder all the blame) his insider trading was performed in concert with former childhood friend Oliver Curtis. Hartman claims he bought Blackberry phones for the pair (to hide evidence of illicit communications) and that Curtis would make the trades in his account. The profits would then be split after brokerage, with Curtis said to have received $1 million. (Hartman would later surrender $1.5 million as he also traded on his own account.) It took an excruciating four years but ASIC has finally charged Curtis with conspiring to commit insider trading (as opposed to insider trading itself). If found guilty, Curtis could face up to five years in prison, plus a $200,000 fine. It has been a rapid fall from grace for the former Cleo Bachelor of the Year contestant, whose family interests have regularly captivated Sydney's financial and society pages. Curtis is currently a director of Riverstone Advisory, a boutique investment bank chaired by dad Nick Curtis (Geoff Raby, the outspoken former Australian ambassador to China, is also a Riverstone executive director). Curtis senior is better known as the wealthy head of rare earths play Lynas Corporation (and previously chairman of ASX-listed Sino Gold, which was sold in 2009 for $2 billion to Eldorado Corporation). The former head of commodities trading at Macquarie Group bought a 20% stake in Lynas back in 2001, when it was valued at only $12 million. When Lynas' share price hit $2.55 in April 2011, it was briefly worth more than $4 billion. Since then, environmental issues at the company's Malaysian plant has resulted in the share price falling back to only 65 cents. (Nick Curtis owns 16 million shares in Lynas worth around $10 million and 30 million options in the company.) Curtis senior is no stranger to controversy either, with Lynas shareholders revolting after the company planned to sell its Mt Weld rare earths deposit to Forge Resources, another company with close links to Nick Curtis. Had the sale proceeded, Curtis would have received performance rights in Forge worth almost $30 million (under a strange agreement which granted performance rights if Forge were able to obtain a JORC-compliant resource capable of supporting a $15 million capital raising). Adding further dubiousness to the transaction, Forge's adviser was none other than Riverstone, which stood to receive a $500,000 success fee had the transaction proceeded. But it's in the social pages that Curtis has received more attention, largely courtesy of wife Roxy Jacenko. Jacenko, who is soon to star in Nine’s upcoming series of  Celebrity Apprentice, started her own PR firm, Sweaty Betty, when only 24. In seven years, Jacenko has built Sweaty Betty into one of Sydney's hottest agencies, turning over more than $10 million a year, with a client list that includes Quicksilver, Converse, Justin Hemme's Merivale Group, Peugot, Arnette, Cleo, Skullcandy and Guess. Jacenko, who appears equally adept at generating publicity for herself as well as her clients, drives a $320,000 Aston Martin (and reportedly recently upgraded to a $400,000 Ferrari) and last year took a private jet to a Hamilton Island sojourn.  Jacenko infamously returned to work only three hours after giving birth to daughter Pixie-Rose in 2011. The pair live in a $6.6 million Woollhara abode while cruising Sydney Harbour on a $3 million yacht Jacenko is loyally standing by her man, who has appointed Magic Circle law firm Clifford Chance to handle his defence. According to a 2011 Court of Appeal hearing, it's believed that Hartman, who longer lives in Sydney, will be a "crucial witness in any future criminal or civil proceedings against … Curtis".

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3 thoughts on “High-flying investor Oliver Curtis could land with a thud

  1. David Symons

    The headline on this story should not refer to “John Curtis” as no such person exists, at least in the context of this story. It should be changed to “Oliver Curtis”.

  2. Kevin Herbert

    A couple of lightweight silver spoon Hooray Henry’s get caught stealing from the public.

    More a tabloid news value story, n’est-ce pas Adam.

    I reckon their amateurish scam must have been hatched over a silver spoon….if you know what I mean…

  3. dunph

    There is a world of difference between these two “tip-off-toffs”:

    Boy 1 (Hartman) knows he’s doing wrong, takes counsel from his family and fesses up;

    Boy 2 (Curtis) knows he’s doing wrong, gets counsel from Dad and denies everything!

    Boy 1 does the time and gets on with his life; Boy 2 takes a leaf from Dad’s book – it’s just another deal – and will likely spend a fortune on lawyers to prove that these is no case to answer.

    In the state that gives us the Obeid ICAC drama, this one will be consigned to midday soap opera … but Ollie & Nick Curtis will live large to prove that low ethics and business acumen are not mutually exclusive.

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