this guy was really good to the...

  1. 4,434 Posts.
    ...Oz taxpayer!
    I mean, really gooooooood!

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    Sinners and Saints index

    Russell Grenning
    RUSSELL GRENNING is a freelance Brisbane writer and public relations consultant. He has worked for the ABC, The Telegraph and as a senior adviser to state and federal ministers and members of parliament.
    Skases
    Christopher and Pixie Skase on the Gold Coast in 1986.

    Smiling villain

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    WHILE murderers appall us, there is a special category of crook that beguiles and even entrances — at least for a while.

    In September 1988, millionaire entrepreneur Christopher Skase celebrated his 40th birthday at a glittering party in Brisbane.

    Guests included premier Mike Ahern and opposition leader Wayne Goss, and the wonderboy of the free-wheeling 1980s was feted by all. His Qintex empire was valued in excess of $2.2 billion — built from a 1974 investment of $15,000.

    It was in 1974 that I first met Skase in — of all places — a Melbourne gay bar.

    He took about a nanosecond to work out I was an obscure functionary in an obscure federal department. He already had a reputation for cultivating only those who could be of assistance and that wasn't me.

    Ten years later our paths crossed again when he was the tycoon and I was the right-hand man of Queensland's "Minister for Everything", Russ Hinze. He greeted me by name as a long-lost friend and we always pretended we couldn't remember how and where we met.

    I had told Hinze that Skase had a reputation as being an inordinately vain man who resented any familiarity, so Hinze casually greeted him with a "G'day Chris" just to remind him who needed whom.

    You could hear Skase's well-tended teeth grinding through his neon smile as he gave me a look of pure venom.

    Nevertheless, I always got invitations to his lavish parties — until, of course, Hinze was sacked from cabinet in December 1987 and I was no longer of any use. My days of coming home in a limo stocked with French champagne came to an abrupt end.

    One unique decorating feature was a glass dome in his office containing $1 million in shredded $100 bills

    Skase was the archetype of the flashy 1980s, staging flamboyant parties with his glamorous wife, Pixie. His Brisbane offices were monuments to over-indulgence with metres of marble, priceless antiquities and valuable paintings and furniture.

    His riverside home, "Bromley", had cost $4 million; one unique decorating feature was a glass dome in his office containing $1 million in shredded $100 bills.

    There were two Rolls Royces, a BMW sports and a $6 million yacht called Mirage III. Mirage was right: he was doing it all with other people's money.

    In 1989, a few months after his birthday bash, everything came crashing down. Skase failed to come up with a $50 million letter of credit to secure a $1.5 billion purchase of the MGM/United Artists movie studios and he filed for bankruptcy.

    It is an audacious gamble for a minnow to try to swallow a whale — and in this case the minnow was already dying from financial indigestion.

    Skase was born in Melbourne where he worked as a stockbroker and financial journalist. After establishing his early business interests there, he and Pixie shifted to Brisbane in 1975 where the big moves began.

    By 1981, he owned 58 percent of Qintex and by the mid 1980s had large holdings in such companies as Hardy Brothers jewellery group, Queensland Merchant Holdings, Mirage Property Trust, Universal Telecasters and Sunstate Resources.

    His appetite for development and acquisition was insatiable and he bought Channel 0 (later 10) in Brisbane, selling it after buying control of the Seven network for $780 million.

    The Gold Coast and Port Douglas Mirage resorts, where opulence gave way to blind extravagance, were his trademarks.

    Pixie's personal supervision gave rise to bizarre stories of profligate spending.

    Behind the scenes, there was a frantic shuffling of shrinking funds from company to company. The rule seemed to be "when in doubt, borrow more and throw an even bigger party".

    After filing for bankruptcy, Skase failed to appear at a liquidators' Brisbane court hearing and he left for Europe. In November 1990 a warrant was issued for his arrest and in March 1991 he gave the first of many medical reasons for his failure to appear.
    skase in wheelchair
    Skase in a wheelchair in court, fighting to stay in Spain.

    Sent to trial in May 1991 on Australian Securities Commission charges of misusing about $19 million, Skase claimed he had only $167 in the bank.

    Bankrupt, he fled to Spain leaving debts estimated at $172 million, smuggling out his cars, furniture, artworks and even the $1 million glass dome.

    He ended up in Majorca, Spain, and so began a decade-long court battle to bring him home to face the music.

    From the safety of his self-imposed exile, he railed against "star chamber" tactics and claimed he was being stripped of his civil liberties and "hounded to death".

    He and his family continued their extravagant life in Spain while successive federal governments pursued the "chase for Skase".

    Finally, when it seemed his options were being closed and the chase was almost over, Skase died on August 5, 2001.

    Skase's former right-hand man, Lawrence van der Platt — who also had a long relationship with one of Skase's stepdaughters — published a book entitled Too Good To Be True in 1996 after turning against his ex-boss.

    In it, he denounced Skase's "cowardly and devious behaviour" and detailed his duplicity and grand self-promotion.

    Perhaps the most telling words were said by his 97-year-old grandmother, Ada Emily Skase, in 1994. She still loved him, she said, but if he ever came back to Australia she would personally give him a good thrashing.

    In March, a bizarre postscript was added to the possibly self-delusional charade that was Skase's rollercoaster life when it was revealed he had written an autobiography called Postcard from Majorca.

    Skase admitted that he managed to get through a staggering $42 million after fleeing justice in Australia

    In it, Skase admits that he owned the $5 million La Noria villa he always maintained he rented and that he managed to get through a staggering $42 million after fleeing justice in Australia.

    Of course, Skase maintains that he did no wrong and that the collapse of his empire was entirely due to others — successive governments, the banks, the media.

    It has also emerged that when he died he was broke and that possibly all he has left Pixie, who went to ground after his death, is a mountain of bills.

    She reportedly flew into a rage having discovered that, in the end, she had been treated like so many others.

    Somehow, it is hard to feel any sympathy.
 
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