Wave of discontent ... Rear Commodore Michael Tess. Photo: Jon Reid
IT BEGAN with a dispute between two luxury boat owners over the alleged theft of two bags of ice.
Eighteen months and approximately $400,000 in legal fees later, the bitter stoush between Eastern suburbs businessman Nicholas Tsoukaris and the exclusive Royal Motor Yacht Club came to an end yesterday when a Supreme Court judge upheld Mr Tsoukaris's expulsion from the club.
Mr Tsoukaris, an importer and fishing gear retailer from Vaucluse, was expelled from the club in August 2010, losing his highly prized Rose Bay mooring, after he allegedly stole two bags of ice from a vessel moored beside him at the marina.
The expulsion was the catalyst for a bitter legal stoush between the parties, with allegations of forgery, bias and suggestions of corruption.
The club alleges that Mr Tsoukaris was entertaining guests on his boat, MV Tainui, in April 2010, when he directed two of his party to take ice from the neighbouring boat, Big Buddy, owned by long-standing member John Keith snr and his son, John Keith jnr.
A member of the club's board, Rear Commodore Michael Tess, was passing at the time and ordered the two men to stop taking the ice and immediately leave the boat, to which Mr Tsoukaris allegedly replied: ''Don't make an arse of yourself, Mick. John Keith has authorised me to go on his boat and we're just getting ice from the fridge.''
Mr Tsoukaris ended up seeking an order from the NSW Supreme Court that he be allowed to return to the club.
Mr Tsoukaris claimed that he had been ''denied natural justice'' because he was not informed about the meeting of the club's board at which he was expelled, and because two members of the board claimed they had seen the alleged theft and so were biased against him.
But the club countered that, at a meeting before Mr Tsoukaris's expulsion, he had produced a forged email, purportedly from the boat owner whose ice was taken, that falsely stated he had permission to come aboard.
The boat owner in question, Sydney property developer John Keith snr, said the email had not come from him.
In the NSW Supreme Court yesterday, Justice Lucy McCallum found that Mr Tsoukaris had in fact forged the email and dismissed his application for the board's decision to be overturned.
''The proposition that someone other than Mr Tsoukaris formed the email with such skill as to make it look so like his own style of writing may be dismissed as fanciful, in my view,'' Justice McCallum said. ''To grant the relief sought would aid Mr Tsoukaris to derive advantage from his own wrong.''
Justice McCallum also rejected Mr Tsoukaris's claims that he had not been given sufficient notice of the board meeting at which he had been expelled, and that two of those making the decision were biased against him.
The former club commodore John Barbouttis said the legal battle could have been prevented if Mr Tsoukaris had ''picked up the phone and apologised''.
''There's no real joy in this decision for the club - it's all quite sad really,'' he said.
''You never want a private situation like this to end up in court.''