Fury at council’s timely rezoning plan

No consultation … Wallace Zagoridis at the Lindfield site of his proposed development in Ku-ring-gai.IN A series of votes after midnight, Ku-ring-gai Council has overturned recommendations from its own staff and slashed the size of 18 projects in decisions developers say will cost them millions of dollars.

One small developer, Wallace Zagoridis who owns Arkibuilt, said the council halved the value of his $8 million site opposite Lindfield station when at 1.45am it cut two-storeys off his seven-storey project, giving him no chance to voice his opposition.

Five years ago, when he bought the 4000-metre site that includes a service station, the Ku-ring-gai Local Environment Plan allowed him to build a seven-storey development – two storeys of shops and businesses with five floors of apartments.

”If I was allowed to build only five storeys, I would have paid $4 million, but I paid $8 million and I have had it for four years paying bank charges … the problem I have is the bank will now look at the zoning and say it’s not zoned for anything viable,” he said.

”We have lost millions of dollars on the whim of the council vote to rezone our land without discussion or any justification.”

Another developer, Barry Murphy, was equally furious with council’s treatment of his site on the Pacific Highway at Pymble, part of which he bought in 1999 when it had already been approved for luxury units.

He has since increased the size of the site, buying more properties after the NSW government forced the council to zone land to allow for 10,000 extra dwellings.

Council staff said his 7500 square-metres of land opposite Pymble station should be zoned for at least 70 units, but councillors last Tuesday, in a special meeting just ahead of next month’s council election, accepted an amendment making it suitable only for five freestanding houses.

”It’s ridiculous, the whole thing is unbelievable … my land is sitting between two, four-storey blocks of units,” Mr Murphy said of the council decision.

”I have spent $300,000 on plans for the front of the site seven or eight months ago and I only did this on the basis of council telling me all this was going to be approved,” he said.

Council’s special meeting was supposed to end a decade-long fight between residents, the council and the state government which has been forcing all councils to accept more dwellings, as Sydney’s population grows.

Last week’s meeting was to ratify a draft local environmental plan which has been exhibited and debated by the community after an earlier plan was rejected by the Land and Environment Court because parts of it were different to the draft that had been publicly exhibited.

The planning consultant Andrew Minto, who represents Mr Murphy, Mr Zagoridis and three other owners whose properties were rezoned, said he doubted whether the government could legally gazette the new plan given the late-night changes were never put on exhibition and the same problem would arise.

”How do you have a site on the highway that’s only for single storeys, that’s just where you should have residential flats,” he said.”

The mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Jennifer Anderson, was one of three councillors who voted against all the rezonings and sympathised with the developers.

”I did not vote for it, I am very conscious of the requirements for viability on sites for development,” she said.

Cr Steven Holland was part of a block of six councillors who voted to rezone all 18 sites. He said he sympathised with developers such as Mr Zagoridis.

”So many different people are affected in so many different ways, some people are going to be happy and some aren’t,” he said.

The Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, will determine the plan approved by council but said he could not comment on it until he was briefed by his department which is awaiting a report from the council.

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Obeid’s son succeeds in having $16m debt to council wiped out

THE $16.6 million debt Moses Obeid’s company owed to the City of Sydney was wiped out yesterday after Obeid-friendly creditors voted to accept payment of 1¢ in the dollar in full satisfaction of their debts, most of which were small.

Yesterday the administrators Mr Obeid appointed to his company Streetscape, Ozem Kassem and Robert Kite from the accountancy firm Cor Cordis, used their casting vote to side with creditors owed a fraction of the amount owed to the council.

”The city is disappointed that the majority of creditors owed monies by Mr Obeid’s company Streetscape agreed to accept an arrangement to allow the company to wipe out its debts,” said a spokesman for the council.

Mr Obeid is the son of Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. The former Labor minister and his son are both set to feature in an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry in November.

Describing Mr Obeid’s conduct as ”dishonest and fraudulent”, in February Justice Clifford Einstein ordered him and his company to pay the council $12,123,470 for secretly selling the council’s multifunction poles overseas in breach of licensing agreements.

With interest and other court costs, the council’s debt has ballooned to $16.6 million.

At a creditor’s meeting yesterday, the council and other creditors such as Telstra, ANZ bank and Streetscape’s landlord Abacus Property Group, voted against the proposed Deed of Company Arrangement that proposed unsecured creditors, owed a total of $17.5 million, accept 1¢ in the dollar in full satisfaction of their debts.

Thirteen smaller creditors such as Mr Obeid’s sister, Gemma Vrana, his business associate Rocco Triulcio, the office cleaner, the local newsagent, the Obeids’s long-time accountant, Sid Sassine, the family’s lawyers, Colin Biggers & Paisley and former employee, John Angus McLeod voted to accept the DOCA.

This effectively meant they agreed to write-off the debts owed to them by Streetscape and to halt further investigations into the company’s finances.

The international arm of Streetscape, which sold the council’s poles throughout the Middle East, made profits of at least $40 million. The council wanted Streetscape to be placed into liquidation so that a thorough investigation of the company’s finances, assets and recent transactions could be done.

Earlier this year, Justice Peter Young of the Supreme Court rejected Mr Obeid’s application that he did not have the money to pay the council’s debt and that any payment should be put on hold until after an appeal is heard in November.

Justice Young said he could have ”very little confidence” in the evidence of Mr Obeid and noted that the Obeids appeared to exemplify the doctrine: ”How to live well on nothing a year” from William Thackeray’s classic novel Vanity Fair.

Moses Obeid claimed he did not have any assets or the means to pay the $12 million but Alan Sullivan, QC, for the City of Sydney, identified a complex series of trusts controlled by the family through which millions and millions of dollars had flowed for the benefit of Mr Obeid and his siblings.

Mr Sullivan also told the court that Mr Obeid’s company Streetscape ”over the years has received large sums of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars in a number of years, as a beneficiary under the Obeid Family Trust.”

The council is pursuing bankruptcy against Mr Obeid but it cannot be finalised until after Mr Obeid’s appeal, which is listed to commence on November 26.

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Background of ‘punters club’ boss revealed

THE reclusive boss of the ”punters club”, which reaps more than $60 million a year through a global betting operation, began devising gambling systems at age 12 with a toy roulette wheel, court documents reveal.

Zeljko Ranogajec, now in his 50s, is being pursued by the Australian Tax Office for tens of millions of dollars in unpaid tax from the profits of the punters club – a sophisticated operation that uses complex algorithms to calculate the odds in thousands of horse and greyhound races.

Through a series of subsidiary companies, it then places in excess of $2 billion in bets a year on sporting events all over the world, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mr Ranogajec, a Sydney resident until last year, is appealing the Tax Office’s assessments of his income in the Federal Court, arguing that he is not a businessman pursuing profit but a passionate gambler.

”[Mr Ranogajec’s] first encounter with gambling was at around the age of 12,” says his appeal statement, lodged with the court this week.

”His father was a regular visitor to Wrest Point Casino and at home the applicant would experiment with systems using a toy roulette wheel.”

The documents show that Mr Ranogajec enrolled in a commerce-law degree at the University of Tasmania in 1978 but attended ”only periodically”.

His university days may not have yielded a degree but they did yield an association with a small cluster of students who shared his fascination with gambling. This association was the genesis for the punters club.

Among the members of the group was David Walsh, the owner of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, who is also being pursued by the Tax Office.

But according to Mr Ranogajec’s statement, the gambling operation remained informal.

”The punters club operated on trust,” his statement reads.

According to the Tax Office, the ranks of the club swelled over the ensuing decade, and by 1991 it was a business devoted to profit.

The Tax Office claims that, at the same time, Ranogajec went to great lengths to hide the growing scale and sophistication of his operation from them. .

In his statement Mr Ranogajec claims he ”wished at all relevant times to comply with his taxation obligations” and that he ”repeatedly sought” the Tax Office’s views on how his gambling winnings should be treated.

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Gillard announces review of counter-terrorism legislation

A LONG-AWAITED review of counter-terrorism laws Australia introduced after the London bombings is finally going ahead.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced yesterday that a committee led by retired NSW judge Anthony Whealy, QC, would report back to the Council of Australian Governments within six months.

The review of federal and state counter-terrorism legislationwill look at control orders, preventative detention and certain police emergency stop, question and search powers.

According to the Law Council of Australia, since the September 11 attacks in 2001, there have been about 50 pieces of ”anti-terrorist” legislation introduced.

The Law Council President-Elect, Joe Catanzariti, said that a lot of that legislation had been rushed through parliament, some was counter to principles of criminal justice and some had never been used.

”[The laws] give massive discretion to the police and prosecutors without any fetter,” he said. Mr Catanzariti expressed particular concern about ASIO’s powers to detain non-suspects for questioning. ”We’re quite delighted that the Prime Minister has finally announced the establishment of this review. We thinks it’s overdue,” he said.

The review was due to start in 2010, with COAG flagging in 2006 that there should be a review of the new laws five years after their introduction.

The head of the Attorney-General’s department, Roger Wilkins, told a senate committee last October that COAG had decided to delay the review. He suggested it had ”drifted” due to concerns about how it would overlap with the appointment of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Bret Walker in April 2011.

The Monitor also reviews counter-terrorism and national security laws, reporting annually to the Prime Minister. Ms Gillard said yesterday that the committee would liaise with Mr Walker.

In a statement, the Prime Minister said that terrorism was an ”ever-present threat”.

”’The review of our laws is important to ensure that our laws remain necessary and provide effective powers for our police and security agencies,” she said.

Other members of the panel include retired Victorian judge David Jones, South Australian Ombudsman Richard Bingham and Australian Federal Police Commander Justine Saunders.

The president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, Terry O’Gorman, said the make-up of the panel was ”far too one-sided” towards law enforcement experts.

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Fashion paradox puts Edmiston in the dress circle

LEONA EDMISTON is exasperated with the egos of some Australian fashion designers.

”Your customers have to want to spend their hard-earned money, so it really should be all about them,” Edmiston said yesterday. ”It shouldn’t be about how clever we are as designers, and the focus shouldn’t be on us being amazing with our dexterity.”

Over the 11 years since she founded her fashion brand, Edmiston has kept a flinty focus on the customers she designs for.

”It should be completely focused on what customers want, because if they don’t want it, they won’t buy it,” she said. ”That’s the real key to staying in business or not staying in business.”

The philosophy has served Edmiston well. The Oscar de la Renta of Australian fashion, she juggles 10 product lines, including apparel, footwear, handbags, children’s wear, hosiery and scented candles.

Two years ago she introduced Leona +, a range for sizes 16 to 22, again in response to customer feedback.

”From the start we always went up to a size 16 and often size 16 was the quickest size to sell out,” Edmiston said. ”We tried [selling] it online first, because the structure and pattern gradings are quite different but once we felt we knew what we were doing we brought it into store.”

Edmiston last night staged her brand’s first solo catwalk show in six years with a presentation to 150 guests at Pelicano Bar in Double Bay.

The designer traditionally holds intimate media previews of her new spring summer collection in April but this year decided to move back to August, when the clothes are actually available in stores.

”It’s a way to kick off the spring summer season and show all our ladies what will be coming into store,” she said. ”It’s reminding them that now is the time to look at spring and get excited about the new season.”

Oversize kaftans, vibrant prints, maxi-dresses and cocktail options were among the 32 looks she presented in the show that concluded with a performance by Katie Noonan.

The presentation was but a snapshot of the 100-odd pieces in the full range that will be stocked in Edmiston’s 30 boutiques around the country, including standalone stores and concessions in Myer.

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