A Melbourne property developer is suing the Commonwealth Bank for millions of dollars over a "Ponzi scheme" he says was carried out by accountants living luxury lifestyles.
Nick Fotopoulos claims more than $2.4 million was fraudulently transferred from his bank account to people he didn’t know during the construction of townhouses almost a decade ago.
Key to the case are professional poker player and finance broker Bill Jordanou and accountant Robert Zaia, the alleged masterminds of the scam.
Mr Fotopoulos is seeking total damages of more than $5.2 million from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and his trial opened in the Supreme Court in Monday.
In late 2008, Mr Fotopoulos took a loan to buy a block of land on Walsh Street in South Yarra for about $3.1 million and borrowed a further $3.3 million for construction.
Jordanou, a finance broker, helped Mr Fotopoulos secure the loan from CBA.
A series of transfers were then made in quick succession from Mr Fotopoulos’s account to other people or entities, allegedly including some to a Zaia family trust.
“Mr Fotopoulos has no idea who these people are,” barrister Joseph Tsalanidis told the court.
“Money moved from my client’s account without his knowledge.”
Mr Tsalanidis described the alleged fraud as a “Ponzi scheme”, a scam named after 1920s Italian swindler Charles Ponzi.
“A clever but not overly complicated Ponzi scheme was being effected,” he said.
But the CBA claims Mr Fotopoulos had fully authorised his accountants to make loan draw downs on his behalf.
“He told police he did not want to be involved with the drawing down of the loan because he didn’t have a computer,” the bank’s barrister Maryanne Loughnan QC said.
The judge heard the alleged scammers Jordanou and Zaia lived a “comfortable lifestyle” at the time.
“Fast cars, jet skis, boats and other luxuries,” Mr Tsalanidis said.
Fraudulent faxes were allegedly sent from accounting firm Zaia Arthur and Associates to the bank with Mr Fotopoulos’s signature on them to authorise the transfers.
Mr Fotopoulos claims no one from the bank ever called him about the transfers and he only realised what was happening after a call in late 2011 informing him his account was in arrears.
The South Yarra project was built and sold and Mr Fotopoulos had to borrow from family members to repay the bank.
He claims to have lost millions and the bank should not have processed the transfers.
“The bank should be on alert when it comes to fax transactions,” Mr Tsalanidis said.
The barrister added that Jordanou and Zaia were also on the bank’s radar at the time in relation to similar conduct.
The trial continues before Justice Peter Almond and the parties are expected to begin mediation on Tuesday.