The six-year legal battle against millionaire Queensland developer Tony Smith and Clive Palmer’s media spokesman Andrew Crook has been abandoned by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which dropped fraud and other charges against the pair.
Mr Smith, the Gold Coast tourism entrepreneur who founded BreakFree resorts but whose main business interests are now in Bali, has vowed he will continue to pursue the National Australia Bank, saying he had spent up to $5 million in legal fees on the matter.
In a bizarre case which seemed more like a bad Hollywood movie script, Mr Smith and Mr Crook were alleged in 2014 to have lured NAB employee Adam Gazel overseas with a bogus job offer with Mr Palmer, but with plans to extract a confession from the bank manager over a civil claim of Mr Smith against the NAB for $68 million.
It all went dreadfully wrong and Mr Smith and Mr Crook were charged with a criminal conspiracy to intimidate the banker.
After a lengthy legal battle over the past six years – during which extortion charges were dropped – the part-heard commital hearing was due to recommence this month.
But in a dramatic development the DPP told the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday it had decided to drop the charges of fraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice because its key witness, Mr Gazel, said he was unable to continue the complaint for “personal reasons”.
Mr Smith, who recently sold his Gold Coast mansion for a record $25 million in May, said he did not feel vindicated by the DPP’s decision to discontinue the charges.
“There is no relief at all. I feel absolutely robbed,” Mr Smith told The Australian Financial Review.
“For me, this is a part of a journey. I took the NAB to court in 2009 because I wanted the truth. All I ever wanted was the truth and all they have done now is validated that and they won’t tell the truth and hand over evidence.”
Mr Smith – the former Sydney Swans player who made his fortune with BreakFree, but was hit hard during the global financial crisis after he sold the company to MFS – said he was considering his legal options against NAB saying he still wanted his time in court to force them to disclose crucial documents.
“You can only be as confident as you can be, but the truth will eventually come out,” he said.
“Why would the complainant, the NAB, not hand over evidence which should validate what their staff said in court and why would their star witness, my bank manager, not be able to proceed after five years and nine months?”
Mr Smith and his family are planning to move permanently to Bali, where he runs the Finns Beach Club resort.
Mr Smith’s original grievance against NAB was over the promise of a $20 million line of credit as his debt escalated during the GFC. He claimed he was promised it verbally by Mr Gazel.
NAB told earlier court hearings no such agreement existed.
A NAB spokesman told the Financial Review it supported its employees involved in the case.
“The decision to withdraw charges is a matter for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. We continue to support our employees involved in this matter,” the spokesman said.
The long-standing legal battle had been “devastating” for Mr Crook who lost his PR business in Brisbane, but he still remains media manager for Mr Palmer.
Mr Crook said he felt an enormous sense of relief the matter had finally been dropped and his name has now been cleared.
“I have maintained from day one that I was innocent. It has taken six long years for vindication but the day has finally arrived. It is an enormous weight off my shoulders,” he said in a statement.
“The impact on my personal and business life has been devastating. For a matter to be held back in the Magistrates Court for six years has been frustrating. One wonders whether the system is just broken or if political motivations were at play.”