Why is a South African national accused of accruing billions of rand through a Ponzi scheme living in the Queensland suburb of Runaway Bay? South African-Australian journalist Larry Schlesinger examines the case.
In 1972, work begun to turn 182 hectares of tidal Gold Coast wetlands north of the Southport Broadwater Parklands into a canal-lined residential subdivision. Real estate developer Neil McCowan and advertising agent John Garnsey christened the new suburb "Runaway Bay", promoting the area as a tranquil escape.
Take a stroll along the Runaway Bay marina today with its views of the Surfers Paradise Manhattan-esque skyline and bobbing yachts at berth and you might pass Barry Deon Tannenbaum, now a resident of the palm tree-lined suburb and the alleged operator of South Africa's biggest Ponzi scheme.
When Tannebaum's name last appeared in the Australian press more than three years ago he was a resident of Runaway Bay, having fled the South African Jewish enclave of St Ives in Sydney when news of the scheme broke. Wikipedia lists
, as Runaway Bay's only notable resident: "Alleged Ponzi scheme mastermind Barry Tannenbaum".
In June 2009 The Sydney Morning Herald
ran the front-page story: "Exposed: the Sydney man accused of a $1.5 billion scam
". But in the last three years, hardly a word about Tannenbaum has made it into the mainstream Australian media, despite new damning revelations in South Africa.
A failed attempt by the South African trustees of Tannenbaum's bankrupt estate to take control of his Australian assets in the Queensland Federal Court in August last year also passed without mention, despite the judge noting that "substantial funds sourced from South Africa were transferred to Australian entities controlled by [Tannenbaum] and his wife". These funds allegedly were stolen from hundreds of investors (some lost all their savings) and squandered by Tannebaum before he fled South Africa.
The moniker "mastermind" (which Tannenbaum denies) is given by none other than the South African Revenue Service in recently leaked documents published on finance website MoneyWeb
. The documents reveal he owes nearly $80 million in taxes, interest and penalties as part of undeclared income earned when he allegedly perpetrated one of the biggest corporate frauds in South African history.
According to SARS, Tannenbaum under-declared his income between 2004 and 2009 by 444 million rand ($47 million) and now owes 747 million rand ($79 million) in tax, penalties and interest. By investigating Tannebaum's 26 bank accounts, SARS discovered inflows of 3.91 billion rand ($415 million), of which 3.05 billion rand ($324 million) was paid out to "investors" and "agents" in the scheme. Over this five-year period Tannenbaum paid tax of just 142,000 rand ($15,000).