Stuart Robert ducks question about offshore business

Stuart Robert faces more questions about his dealings while a minister.

Stuart Robert faces more questions about his dealings while a minister. Photo: AAP

Coalition financial services spokesman Stuart Robert is refusing to say whether he did any business with an offshore entity controlled by his business partner while also serving as a minister.

As Mr Robert faces an inquiry into his business links and lobbying for lucrative contracts, it can be revealed he also held shares in companies alongside John Margerison, who has become embroiled in one of the biggest financial scandals in recent years.

In 2016, it was revealed that $2 billion in missing Malaysian pension funds was making its way through Australian financial institutions.

Mr Robert would later be involved in regulating some aspects of the financial services, in a response to the scandal.

Mr Margerison – a long-time acquaintance of Mr Robert, as well as a former political fundraiser – was the CEO of Avestra, a company found to have been involved in laundering $18 million of the Malaysian pension funds.

The Malta casino

On Sunday, Mr Robert refused to detail shareholdings held with Mr Margerison while he was in cabinet.

The Coalition MP denied any of his partnerships with the Margerison companies presented a conflict with his public role, including his past spot on the Asian Development Bank.

According to Mr Robert’s last declared shareholding before joining the frontbench, a company he had part-owned was about to be part of a takeover.

A $2 million cash payment (and more in stock) for Invictus Technology was approved by its shareholders in June 2020 as part of a takeover bid.

Similar takeovers have been conducted at its similarly-named subsidiaries traded on the NSX. In one case Mr Margerison held a majority of the shareholdings.

The last time Mr Robert had declared his shareholding it was in a trust ultimately controlled by a company owned by Mr Margerison.

On Sunday, Invictus CEO Glenn Tong told The New Daily that Mr Robert had been a shareholder, but he had not learnt of this until after the takeover. He believed the MP had long since divested his holding.

A Margerison company was later paid $3.5 million for the lease of a warehouse by the government services department that Mr Robert oversaw as minister. Mr Robert maintains the lease was negotiated by the department.

Mr Robert insists he had no say on contracts as a minister.

He declined to comment on whether his business association with Mr Margerison posed a conflict with his ministerial duties.

With regards to Avestra and the Malaysian pension fund scandal, Mr Margerison escaped sanction for his company’s actions.

Two fellow former Avestra directors were banned for 10 years for alleged breaches associated with the Malaysian money.

Earlier, Mr Margerison registered a company – MyFX Limited – to an address actually located at a restaurant inside a Malta casino, as was revealed in a leak of offshore account data.

More recently he was joined in business with Matthew Freeman, a young adviser to Donald Trump who had been close to the former US president’s jailed chief of staff Paul Manafort before following him into the field of foreign lobbying.

Mr Margerison and Mr Robert combined for their next venture, an unsuccessful attempt at commercialising cryogenics therapy, Cryo Australia. The pair lost $400,000 in the attempt.

Mr Robert’s business partner in the Cryo venture, the convicted rapist Neran De Silva, had directed a company, Promedical Equipment, that was fined $63,000 for allegedly unlawfully advertising a COVID testing kit.

A company directed on of Mr Robert’s business partners was fined over advertising for RAT kits. Photo: Getty

“Mr Robert has complied with all requirements for the Register of Members’ interests and Ministerial Standards,” the MP said via a spokesman. “To suggest or imply otherwise would be false.”

In 2018 Mr Robert, then assistant treasurer, told a delegation of financial planners that the banking royal commission had raised some issues to be looked at regarding financial planning.

“It appeared that Stuart Robert was supportive of us,” one financial planner recalled of raising concerns about the inquiry.

“He said that Australians don’t like paying fees.”

Health conglomerate

Mr Margerison owns a health conglomerate that bought up disability providers and received $40 million in payments from the NDIS in 2020.

His affairs face fresh scrutiny, kicked off by a leaked cache of emails that revealed Mr Robert had opened doors for multinational clients of Mr Margerison’s lobbying business bidding on lucrative government IT work.

Those contracts will come before an inquiry.

Mr Margerison did not respond to a request for comment.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Mr Robert was formerly a director of Cryo Australia, not Promedical Equipment Pty Ltd.

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