LIFE SAVINGS of 250 low-paid racecourse workers have been caught up in a $123 million fraud case that could become the biggest superannuation theft in Australian history.Tabcorp’s NSW casual racecourse wagering staff say they have not been told how much money they have lost after their Astarra Superannuation Fund was frozen by financial regulators last October.A staff member for 33 years, Rosemary Walker, 72, who works at Randwick Racecourse, questioned how Tabcorp could have approved Astarra as a suitable destination for her super.”I’m puzzled as to why we started off in a reputable fund when we were with [former employer] AWA and ultimately we finished up in Astarra,” she said.The staff put a human face on losses faced by 10,000 superannuation investors after their investments were placed with Albury-based fund manager Trio Capital.Trio Capital managed more than $400 million in investments including the Astarra Superannuation Fund before regulators removed the previous managers.On Friday a NSW Supreme Court justice, George Palmer, ruled that a separate offshore hedge fund managed by Trio Capital had all the signs of a ”fraudulent scam” as he detailed ”inherent vices” in Trio Capital’s business model.The hedge fund called Astarra Strategic channelled $123 million in investments through the British Virgin Islands using companies based in obscure Caribbean tax havens including Belize, Nevis, St Lucia and Anguilla.In a finding ordering Astarra Strategic be wound up in the public interest, Justice Palmer wrote: ”If one wants to conduct financial operations dishonestly or illegally – then it is to these jurisdictions that one goes to incorporate puppet companies with puppet directors in order to operate fraudulent schemes and to move money around the world in secrecy.”Regulators have been unable to find any money. No charges have been laid.Astarra Superannuation Fund is not the corporate superannuation fund used by Tabcorp staff.Tabcorp’s contributions to Astarra Superannuation are a legacy of the original fund the on-course staff were switched to when NSW TAB bought their previous employer AWA in 2000.Ms Walker has $21,000 at risk and the life savings of other staff members are under threat. ‘We don’t know if we’re ever going to get our money,” she said.A Tabcorp spokesman, Bruce Tobin, said the company had written to all affected employees and was working with the union.In his ruling, Justice Palmer said Astarra Strategic’s use of tax havens should have sounded deafening warning bells ”that there was a very high prospect that the funds would simply disappear into the ether – as has almost certainly happened in this case”.But he said the use of the tax havens had not been disclosed in Trio Capital’s statements to investors.Superannuation losses from Astarra Strategic would represent the largest superannuation fraud or theft since current superannuation laws were enacted in 1993.
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