Monday, November 27, 2023

Gold fraudster back in custody over $40m scheme


Gold fraudster back in custody over $40m scheme

By Esther Linder
Updated November 23 2023 - 2:55pm, first published2:51pm
The ATO paid Jonatan Kelu and a co-accused over $40 million before they were charged with fraud. (Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS)
The ATO paid Jonatan Kelu and a co-accused over $40 million before they were charged with fraud. (Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS)

A man who ripped off the tax office in an elaborate gold-fraud scheme has dismissed his lawyer mid-hearing, while his partner in crime appealed for more time to show his contrition.

Jonatan Kelu and Cedric Adrian Millner appeared in the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday for a dramatic sentencing hearing after being found guilty in July over the $40 million fraud.

"Frankly it's most unsatisfactory, the things that have happened today," Justice Richard Cavanagh told the court.

Kelu and Millner were due to be sentenced on two counts of conspiring to cause loss to the Commonwealth using an elaborate GST-evasion scheme.

The pair were involved in a fraud that operated between 2012 and 2013, when they bought gold without paying GST as the precious metal was more than 99 per cent pure.

The duo then melted the gold and resold it as a powder to Melbourne company Focus Gold.

They then claimed they had paid taxes on the initial purchase and requested a tax offset from the Australian Taxation Office.

The ATO refunded the pair more than $40 million before they were arrested and charged in 2018.

Kelu dismissed his counsel mid-morning during a series of adjournments before approaching the bar table while carrying two laden shopping bags and appearing visibly nervous.

He later momentarily asked for his former barrister to respond to a bail application on his behalf in a reversal of his earlier disengagement of Madeleine Avenell.

In October, Kelu was granted bail on medical grounds due to heavy metal poisoning that required testing and treatment.

When asked by the judge what the "special and exceptional circumstances" were for him to be given continued bail, Kelu replied: "I can't remember. I can give you what I've written."

His application was unsuccessful, and he was handcuffed and taken into custody.

Kelu had earlier handed over a "bundle of material" while trying to make an impromptu case for his conviction to be overturned.

Millner's lawyer, Sharyn Hall SC, said her client had received a letter from the Australian Federal Police about recouping the stolen funds and he wished to respond to it fully as a demonstration of his remorse.

Only about $16 million of the defrauded funds had been recovered.

Despite the letter being dated August 23 and the judge noting there was no evidence to suggest Millner had previously supported efforts to recover the stolen money, Justice Cavanagh allowed him time to produce further evidence.

"It is regrettable that this issue was not dealt with in the lengthy period between the sentencing hearing and today," he said.

The Crown opposed any delays to the sentencing, arguing the recovery of the money was not relevant to any jail time.

"All we're talking about here is an accounting exercise as to where the money has gone," prosecutor Gerard Craddock KC said.

Justice Cavanagh ruled that final sentencing would go ahead on December 15, when both offenders were due to appear via video-link.