An Australian charity operator is accused of questionable practices
What do real estate schemes, bitcoin exchanges, giant rubies, million-dollar paintings, medicinal marijuana and an Australian charitable organisation handing out tax receipts like candy have in common? They all sprang from the fertile imagination of Andrew Philip Duncan.
The newspapers call him a ‘conman’. Others call him the chairman of Aid Vanuatu.
Aid Vanuatu is an Australian charitable organisation. It claims to collect donated gifts and goods, and to use the proceeds to help Vanuatu recover from cyclone Pam. It is not registered as an NGO in Vanuatu.
It was evicted from its Demand Ave property on the Gold Coast earlier this week, according to a lawyer representing the land owner.
A Daily Post investigation reveals that the people behind this organisation have long sought to profit from schemes associated with Vanuatu.
The troubled organisation is chaired by Andrew Duncan. His brother Colin is a director. In 2017, the organisation registered over AU $31,000 in gifts, sales and other income. It listed over $43,000 in expenses, for a net loss of nearly $12,000.
According to a lawyer representing the owner of an Arundel warehouse on Demand Avenue, a lease was negotiated which would pay $250,000 for the first year’s occupancy, then $400,00 for each of the next two years. Rent was to be paid at a rate of $18,333.32 monthly.
The owner alleges that the rent was never paid.
The owner’s lawyer told the Daily Post that on June 19 2018, the month the first rent payment was due, Andrew Duncan issued a tax deductible gift receipt, or DGR, to the Landlord in the sum of $90,000. A digital copy of the receipt was provided.
But the owner’s lawyer argued that Aid Vanuatu “can only issue a DGR when it has received a donation from a donor. Duncan advised Landlord that the DGR was for payment of rent. That is to say Duncan tried to pay the rent by issuing tax DGR’s to Landlord.
”“Not only was the sum of the DGR more than 5 times the rent due that month,” he continued, “there is no legal purpose for the issue of the receipt. The DGR was non-compliant with legal requirements….
”“The Charity must receive a ‘Gift’ which must be given voluntarily. [The] Landlord did not give his property away as a gift. The property has a value of approximately $4,000,000.00".
Australian law governing charities states that the donor must not receive a benefit in return. But the landlord, says his lawyer, “was clearly to receive rent payments for the use of the property. This is not a gift, it is a commercial transaction with benefit to both parties.”
He concluded: “The DGR was unlawfully issued.”
That same day, the lawyer alleges that his client was offered medicinal Cannabis by someone on the property as part payment for the rent.
Readers may be familiar with the Demand Avenue address. It is the same cited as the “Gold Coast Australia Operations of Medicinal Cannabis International”. The website claims that the company “is a privately owned company, owned by two brothers, Andrew & Colin Duncan, registered in both Australia & Vanuatu.”
The name ‘Medicinal Cannabis International’ is registered as an operating name for Aid Vanuatu in Australia. It is not present in the Vanuatu companies register, however.
Asked about this, Andrew Duncan insisted that the company name was reserved in Vanuatu. The Daily Post was unable to find any evidence to support this. A request was sent to Duncan, and although documentation was promised, nothing to corroborate this was received.
The website also claims that it is in the process of obtaining up to 2,000 hectares of land on Espiritu Santo, presumably to establish a marijuana plantation. Again, no evidence was provided to support this claim. Given the absence of a plantation, it’s not clear where the marijuana allegedly offered to the property’s landlord would have come from.
Andrew’s brother Colin replied by email. “I do not have any land in Vanuatu at present, there is a site of more than 2000Ha which may be suitable and available to a joint venture with the custom owner, but I am not going to push that further until there has been a full business plan established”.
Concerning the business name: “Medicinal Cannabis International was registered in Vanuatu but has expired a long time ago”. The Daily Post could find no evidence to support this claim. Company records are normally retained by the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission even after an organisation has been struck from the registry.
Bizarrely, Colin seemed to disavow any knowledge of his brother: “A lot of what was in the website was just wishful thinking by the guy who made the website and was trying to make something out of Medicinal Cannabis International. I now own the company and will move forward to bring about a realistic vision.”
Asked who created that website, Andrew Duncan said, “I did.”
This is not the only website Andrew has created. Over the years, they have popped up like mushrooms. Many of them offered property for sale in Vanuatu.
One, advertising a proposed resort on Sara beach in north Efate, included a downloadable form that allowed prospective buyers to “confirm that you have placed a $AUD2,500 fully refundable holding deposit on a Villa at Sara Beach Resort, Port Vila, on the island of Efate in Vanuatu.”
A Google search for ‘sara beach resort vanuatu’ returns a link to sarabeach.com, which results in a 404 Not Found error.
Another website, which linked to the Sara beach site, was for the Asset Trading Group.
The site advertised categories including real estate, marine & auto, art & gemstones, ‘investments’ and even a BitCoin exchange. Some of the goods on sale will ring a bell for those familiar with Vanuatu’s long and storied history of skulduggery and cowboy entrepreneurs.
One item, a 40 kg ruby, recalls a famous scandal in which a similar stone was used to secure a proposed bond US $50 million issue. Former Prime Minister Barak Sope was convicted for his role in the scheme, and later pardoned due to ill health.
The image originates from a gem forum, and the ruby itself is worth a few thousand dollars at best.Another item is a schooner-rigged sailing yacht, the Sapphire. The 40m long yacht would surely fetch millions, if it were actually for sale. Its current status is unknown, but it was last seen in the Yartmarine dry dock.
This dry dock facility in Phuket, Thailand, was owned by Pascal Saken, who became famous for his role in an imbroglio involving ministers of state and another super-yacht, the Phocea. Mr Saken, according to his website, is still “an international businessman and investor from Vanuatu.”
More recently, he was claiming to work as “the Ministry Counsellor to the Embassy of the Central African Republic in the People’s Republic of China.”Another big ticket item from Asset Traders previously graced the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.
In 2012, the newspaper reported that Andrew Philip Duncan claimed to have paid $5.2 million for a painting called Points of View, by an obscure Newcastle artist. If true, that would make it the second highest price ever paid for an Australian artwork.
The claim was disputed. The newspaper quotes art dealer Denis Savill, saying “There no chance in a hundred bloody million. That’s a fairy story.”For his part, Andrew Duncan does not seem to be thriving. The Daily Post was shown court documents indicating that he had failed to clear a debt of nearly AU $25,000 to Bartercard Australia, a business to business goods and services exchange.
The default judgment was accompanied by a bankruptcy notice. This is not the first time Andrew Duncan has been bankrupted. In 2005, the Sunshine Coast Daily reported that Andrew Philip Duncan had been convicted of six bankruptcy offenses:
“A conman who hooked 123 investors and businesses into his plan to create a barramundi breeding and fishing venture at Bli Bli, before leaving them thousands of dollars out of pocket, has wriggled free in court.“Mr Duncan pleaded guilty to four charges of carrying on a business under an assumed name while bankrupt, one charge of obtaining an amount of $3,000 or more by promising to render services while bankrupt, and one charge of knowingly signing a false declaration in relation to a statement of affairs.”
Aid Vanuatu claims to have numerous corporate sponsors, including nationally known financial and travel-related companies. None of the companies contacted by the Daily Post wanted to have anything to do with the organisation, or with Andrew Duncan.
One banker told the Daily Post that Duncan’s name was familiar because it was associated with a number of “over-complicated” business plans. “Generally they involved custom land-owners and other people’s money,” they said. “We passed on all of them.”