Rowers’ Reprise: how Angus Taylor’s mates cleaned up without him

by | Jun 21, 2019 | Business, Government

“Nothing to see here,” said Scomo, following misconduct allegations over Angus Taylor allegedly trying to influence Josh Frydenberg to weaken laws to escape prosecution by a company he part owns. Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt make another deep dive into the Energy Minister’s circle of friends and find significant absent-mindedness.

IN THE world of international finance, they say you never quite know who you’re going to meet. But in the case of Australia’s Minister for Energy and Emissions, Angus Taylor, he knew just about everybody he would do business with, and some beyond.

Take John Roberts for example. Roberts studied business administration at Oxford University during Angus Taylor’s time there, studying at Magdalene College. He too was a keen rower, being part of the Magdalen College First VIII. Although they attended different colleges, Roberts and Taylor would become close business associates over the coming decades.

Taylor and Roberts both worked at McKinsey & Co from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s before Taylor joined consultancy company Port Jackson Partners in 2002. In fact, Angus Taylor stayed with Port Jackson until 2013, just prior to entering Parliament.

Watergate Crew: the regatta of mates behind Australia’s richest water deal

During this time, the always entrepreneurial Taylor was also a director of the FarmShed group of companies (Farmshed Pty Ltd, Farmshed Merchandising, and Farmshed Ventures), from the period 2000-2005. Taylor started this spread of companies together with his rowing mate, John Roberts, who was a director for a time as well.

The Farmshed group went into administration in 2005 It was a failed early internet portal that tried to make money by on-selling various farm products, including rural finance to management services. Another fellow director of Angus Taylor’s at the time was Richard Goyder, who was then with Wesfarmers but is now the chairman of oil, gas and energy behemoth, Woodside.

One would hope the previous business association with Goyder is declared by Angus Taylor whenever the government and he, as the Minister for Energy, deliberate on policy and cabinet decisions.

What is known is that, after the winding up of the FarmShed group, Taylor and Roberts teamed up again to become founding directors of JRAT International Pty Ltd from March 4, 2004, onwards. The company formerly changed its name to Centaurus Partners on October 20, 2015. It is not clear how Taylor’s employer at the time, Port Jackson Partners, felt about Taylor establishing a rival consulting company, or if they even knew at all – or if they knew about the financial deals with associates of McKinsey & Co.

Taylor stayed on as a director of JRAT International until 2015, well after he entered federal parliament in September, 2013.

This year, he attracted media scrutiny when he failed to declare his directorship and 50 per cent shareholding of JRAT International on his parliamentary Register of Interests, as is required. When this oversight was brought to Taylor’s attention last month by the Canberra Times, he confirmed he was a director and shareholder between 2004 and 2015 but denied receiving any financial benefit :

“During this time, the company did no business, and earned no income, and I received absolutely no benefit from it.”

As stated above, JRAT International Pty Ltd began trading as Centaurus Partners Pty Ltd from March 4, 2004 (see ASIC extract below). Given we are certainly aware of one major industry report that Centaurus Partners researched and produced, the above statement from the federal minister, Angus Taylor, is an odd one.

Centaurus’s expert report into Australia’s wine industry was released in August 2013 while Taylor was still a director of the company. Perhaps, and we can only surmise, this extensive 50 page report, with accompanying research, was produced for free. See the full report here.

Angus Taylor has confirmed between 2004 and 2015 he was a director and a shareholder in a company called JRAT International, along with an associate, John Roberts.

We have also been able to identify at least five other people, aside from the directors Taylor and Roberts, who worked for Centaurus Partners as consultants, while Taylor was a director of the company. One of these people, Andrew Jones, even claims in a current CV that Centaurus Partners did work in “finance, funds management, manufacturing and logistics, property development, and the hospitality, media and gaming industries.”

If so, this raises the following questions:

  • Was Taylor unaware of his company’s entire income and financial activity?
  • Was Taylor asleep at the director’s wheel, raising questions over his fiduciary duties as company director?
  • Was he absent minded and forgetful?
  • Or was he not being straightforward when he told the media the company did “no business” at all?

Taylor’s memory appears to have suddenly returned however, because on September 7, 2015, he resigned as director of Centaurus Partners, having kept his directorship hidden from parliamentary scrutiny.

Coincidentally, his sudden company resignation occurred just seven days before the leadership ballot between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Perhaps it was a case of the ambitious junior MP, sniffing a change of leaders along with the possibility of becoming a minister, ensuring his compliance was in order.

Although Taylor did not gain a ministerial position in the successful Turnbull leadership spill, he did not have to wait too much longer. He became an assistant minister in February 2016.

Not content with moonlighting from Port Jackson Partners, being involved with the failed FarmShed group of companies, Centaurus Partners, and of course Eastern Australian Irrigation, Eastern Australia Agriculture, Agricultural Managers Limited, Agriculture Managers (Australia), and Australian Agricultural Securitisation, Angus Taylor and John Roberts established another company in 2010: Resolution Manager Pty Ltd.

This company, of which Taylor and Roberts were the original directors, was created to handle insolvency, management consultancy, restructuring, strategy formulation, cost reduction, debt, equity, legal and corporate governance together with leadership of large corporates in both distressed and non-distressed circumstances. While Taylor only stayed a few months at the company, Roberts stayed until 2012, and the pair were able to collect at least one other director on the way — Michael Larkin.

Larkin’s name is synonymous with one of Australia’s largest corporate collapses — Babcock and Brown, the former financial engineering firm. With a market capitalisation of $8.5 billion in 2007, Babcock went in voluntary liquidation on March 13, 2009. A mere 12 months after the collapse of Babcock and Brown, Larkin found a corporate home with Angus Taylor and John Roberts at Resolution Managers Pty Ltd.

Larkin and Roberts are still in business together to this day as part of Markham Real Estate (KSW) Pty Ltd, whose holding company (PAG Real Estate Asia Select Fund) is a member of the Pacific Alliance Group (PAG).

Close followers of the Watergate mystery will be aware that PAG was created by Taylor’s former rowing buddy and Oxford friend, the multi-millionaire hedge fund manager Chris Gradel.

Which brings us to the next rowing friend of Angus Taylor, Paul Nystrom.

Paul Nystrom and Angus Taylor both attended Oxford University in 1993, studying together at New College. Nystrom studied jurisprudence while Taylor, as part of his Rhodes Scholarship, studied economics. After finishing at Oxford, Nystrom built his career through various legal firms before landing a job in 2008 with Conyers Dill & Pearlman, a corporate law firm in the tax haven of Bermuda.

Followers of Watergate will recall that two companies – Eastern Australian Irrigation and Agricultural Managers Limited – both associated with Angus Taylor, were established in the Caymans in December 2007.

From the internationally renowned offices of Conyers, who proudly boast their,

“internationally renowned offshore firm spans the globe, advising on the laws of Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands”,

Paul Nystrom advanced to become senior counsel for Walkers Global. Walkers is a law firm who pride themselves on providing,

“compliance services from the Cayman Islands through Walkers Compliance, a one-stop-shop which helps clients address evolving Anti-Money Laundering Regulations.”

Walkers Global in the Caymans, with Taylor’s old college buddy Paul Nystrom in their employ, also happily shared the same address with Angus Taylor’s old company links. Here it is:

Barnaby Joyce, Angus Taylor and the $80 million question

In 2009, when Angus Taylor established two Australian based subsidiaries of Agricultural Managers Ltd, the listed address for their parent company was Walker House which was also coincidentally the registered address of Walkers Global law firm.

Coincidentally, a few months after Nystrom’s move, Eastern Australian Irrigation, the Caymans company that Angus Taylor co-funded, sold its interest in the Australian arm of the company, Eastern Australia Agriculture, for an undisclosed price.

It seems Taylor used his time at Oxford University industriously, establishing lifelong relationships and associations with a host of influential people. Among those was an American with, as is part of the pattern, an interest in international finance, Deacon Turner. Turner studied prehistoric archeology at Oxford and again was part of New College and its influential boat club, rowing for the Second Eight.

Deacon Turner is now an investment manager and has been with Bernstein Global Wealth Management for the past 21 years. According to Bloomberg’s website of who’s who in the world of business, Bernstein Global Wealth Management is an investment arm of Alliance Bernstein Holding L.P, with approximately $87 billion in assets under management. The firm also provides tax management and wealth management services, primarily to high net worth individuals.

In November 2018, Deacon Turner released a podcast titled; Entrepreneurs – Investment Success After Selling A Business. We sincerely hope the owners of Eastern Australian Irrigation tuned in for some advice on what to do with the $80 million windfall they received from the Australian taxpayers, courtesy of a decision from then water minister, Barnaby Joyce.

With all his exposure to the corporate, legal and consultancy world where performance and management fees are de rigueur, Angus Taylor seems not to have brought his money-making experience to the table with Eastern Australia Irrigation.

Taylor says he did not derive any financial benefit although he established the Cayman Islands company which received the bulk of the $80 million in taxpayers’ money via the controversial water buyback.

Perhaps it is absent-mindedness. Absent mindedness is surely evident in the Minister’s failure to disclose conflicts of interest. Perhaps it has cost him financially too. It is an unusual situation for an entrepreneur to set up a tax haven company, attract investors as shareholders, but gain no benefit when that company and its investors make a record profit from a government transaction, as has been the case with Watergate.

While Angus Taylor has led a fortunate life, mingling with tax haven lawyers, millionaires, billionaires and global consultants, he has failed to capitalise on all his opportunities. That’s what he says. We can only take him at his word.

Watergate ducking and dodging: More questions from Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt

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Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir.

Ronni Salt is also an independent researcher, who comes from the land and has an interest in politics and current affairs. The identities of the authors are known to the editors of this publication.

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