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Celebrated ACT public servant receives legal threats after failed Malaysian deal

A celebrated former ACT public servant received a bizarre legal demand for more than $20 million after a $1 billion property deal involving the Malaysian government fell through.

Nic Manikis is a former senior official at the Community Services Directorate, and is widely credited as the driving force behind the National Multicultural Festival, among other achievements.

Until November last year when the business was wound-up, he was also a listed director for Ladylaw Securities, a property development company incorporated in Singapore.

In 2014, while also working as a public servant, Mr Manikis said he met representatives from the Malaysian government, including the state-controlled Employees Provident Fund, to discuss a lucrative proposal.

The meetings were to discuss investing in a mammoth series of property deals in Canberra and Sydney.

"As far as I was concerned it was very straightforward," he said.

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"What we wanted to do was put together a $1 billion list of properties, and to leverage the [Malaysian government] funds to go through and purchase the properties.

"There were multiple attempts at finding different ways of doing this, and in the end it just fizzled out."

Mr Manikis said he had for some time had a peripheral interest in the real estate industry through friends, and it was not necessarily unusual for him to be involved in such a proposal.

The Malaysian property deal did not eventuate, and Mr Manikis thought that was the end of the saga until a legal letter arrived at the end of 2015.

"I get this letter from a firm of solicitors, representing this bloke who wanted $20 million as a commission for setting the whole thing up.

"I ignored that letter. In 2017 a different law firm wrote to me. And then just a few weeks ago I got another letter threatening legal action.

"My solicitors wrote back to say we've never heard of this bloke. I'm still dealing with it now."

The name of the man seeking the commission was the same as a prominent Malaysian political operative, Mr Manikis said.

Mr Manikis also said he suspected forged documents claiming to relate to the Malaysian deal were also in circulation.

Mr Manikis stressed that the people he had dealt with in Malaysia did everything by the book, and added that he was surprised at the fallout the deal had generated more than three years on. 

This sentiment was shared by Terry Daly, the ACT managing director of property development company Knight Frank, who was approached by Mr Manikis around the time of the proposal in 2014.

Mr Daly said Knight Frank received a run of the mill request to look into some potential property development opportunities for Mr Manikis.

"We gave Nic some broad information on property around the country, that was our role," Mr Daly said.

"It was similar to any other buyer that might ring us up. It was all very preliminary, looking at what might be potentially available in the market.

"We provided that information, and from that day, it never grew any legs."

The Employees Provident Fund released a cryptic statement regarding the deals and their contact with Mr Manikis in response to reports that had recently surfaced in Malaysian media.

"The involvement of Ladylaw Securities and Nic Manikis was made known to the EPF on 20 January 2017 and a police report was made on 23 January 2017 stating that the EPF has no knowledge nor was involved in any investment transaction with Ladylaw Securities nor Nic Manikis," read part of their statement.

Mr Manikis offered a different version of events. 

"I did go and meet their general manager. He will tell you that I arrived at Ramadan with my Canadian director." 

In November 2016 Mr Manikis retired after 40 years in the public service.

His last job was as the director of the Community Participation Group in the Community Services Directorate.

The wildly successful National Multicultural Festival, which he inaugurated in 1997, is his most high profile achievement, having grown into a huge event that now attracts upwards of 200,000 revellers each year.

Mr Manikis has also worked as the head of the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, ran the introduction of the ACT Seniors Card and, after the devastation of the 2003 bushfires, he coordinated more than 80 events that raised nearly $10 million for the victims.

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