Half a billion dollars. A secretive fund with links to a major Chinese developer. And one of the most lucrative pieces of land in the country. Who is behind the latest land deal raising questions next to the new Sydney airport?
The Northern Gateway site, not far from the now notorious Leppington Triangle, has been earmarked for a manufacturing hub and support precinct for the airport and includes plans for a new metro station.
The land was owned by property developer and convicted murderer Ron Medich and his developer brother Roy. It was snapped up by a little-known company called Roberts Jones Funds Management, which was registered with the corporate regulator just six months ago.
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The secrecy surrounding the deal has prompted concern from transparency groups, who say it has once again exposed holes in Australia’s corporate regulatory system.
“Clearly this is a company with very opaque corporate structures with no transparency or disclosure around who the real beneficiaries are and who they are acting on behalf of,” Transparency International Australia chief executive Serena Lillywhite told Crikey.
Despite having almost half a billion dollars to spare on prized land, Roberts Jones Funds Management keeps a very low profile, but a Google search brings up the LinkedIn pages of its two directors, Bob Gong and Jonathan Pan.
Both Gong and Pan previously worked for Boyuan Holdings Limited (BHL), the Australian-listed arm of Hong Kong-based developer Jiayuan International Group, which Roberts Jones has appointed as development agents on the project.
Interestingly, BHL tried to buy the land in 2018 when it put together a proposal to build a “mini city” on the site with a group of investors, including neurosurgeon Charlie Teo and the University of Western Sydney. That plan never went ahead. Teo’s foundation and the University told Crikey they were not involved in this latest deal.
It’s not the first time a massive land deal near the airport has become the focus of widespread attention.
In September last year the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) revealed the federal government paid $30 million for a package of land in 2018 that was worth just $3 million.
The Leppington Triangle deal triggered outrage and reignited calls for a federal anti-corruption watchdog.
The land was owned by billionaire dairy farmer brothers Tony and Ron Perich, long time donors to the Liberal party, who had spent a decade fighting against the land being acquired.
Disgraced Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire also told the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in October he was working on a deal involving land in Western Sydney.
It prompted Scott Morrison to call on the Australian Federal Police to “thoroughly” investigate if Maguire had any involvement in airport deals.
A spokesperson for BHL would not say whether BHL had been involved in the sale. He told Crikey that it had been appointed by Roberts Jones as development agents for the project.
“BHL will be working alongside other local project management teams, consultants and contractors, to transform the Elizabeth Drive site into a major employment, logistics and mixed-use precinct servicing the Airport and greater Aerotropolis.”
Lillywhite said the significance of the land called for far greater regulatory checks.
“It really does expose just how inadequate our corporate regulatory systems are.”