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War of the Roses - Sydney-style

Date

Kate McClymont

Contested space: this property on Kulgoa Road, Bellevue Hill, was once the marital home of Lisa Poulos and Hans Eberstaller.

Contested space: this property on Kulgoa Road, Bellevue Hill, was once the marital home of Lisa Poulos and Hans Eberstaller.

It's being dubbed Sydney's War of the Roses: a bitter marriage breakdown, a bizarre property deal and claims the city's men are being turned from daytime lions to "pussycats at home".

Business executive Hans Eberstaller's late-night decision to sell his family home to a man who had never seen the property and paid no deposit has produced a stinging legal rebuke and he and the mystery purchaser have been hit with a $150,000 legal bill and the sale cancelled.

Mr Eberstaller’s actions would have put his estranged wife, public relations agent and former publisher of Elle magazine Lisa Poulos, and the couple’s children, out on the street.

Lisa Poulos.

Lisa Poulos.

“His intention towards his wife was not merely unreasonable, it was dishonest by the standards of ordinary, decent people,” said Justice Michael Pembroke of the NSW Supreme Court.

Mr Eberstaller, the managing director of Strategic Investments for Amalgamated Holdings, which owns Greater Union cinemas and the Rydges hotel chain, did everything in his power “to frustrate and intimidate” his wife and to prevent her from having the home, said the judge.

“You’ve seen War of the Roses,” Mr Eberstaller said of his bitter marriage breakdown. He also suggested that when “eastern suburbs wives” were “no longer happy with their man” they go to court to get the matrimonial home.

Hans Eberstaller

Hans Eberstaller

Fear of this happening was turning men who were ‘‘lions in their business” into “pussycats at home”, he claimed.

On August 12, 2013, within weeks of Ms Poulos’ confronting tale of her double mastectomy airing on the ABC’s Australian Story, Mr Eberstaller exchanged contracts at 10 o’clock at night for the sale of the couple's Bellevue Hill mansion to a man who had never seen the property and who paid no deposit.

“There is nothing mysterious about it,” Mr Eberstaller said. “I’ve been in banking and finance for 30 years and most deals are done at four in the morning so ten o’clock in the evening is pretty early actually.’’

The agreed purchase price was $2,350,000, which was $1 million less than a valuation Mr Eberstaller had obtained in 2009.

“For all I know, he could be an illusion,” said Justice Pembroke of the mystery purchaser, Premjit Singh.

Mr Eberstaller said he had never met Mr Singh despite Mr Singh being listed as a co-director with Mr Eberstaller in two companies, one of which owns a tavern in Innisfail and the other is developing a former drive-in site south of Cairns.

Mr Eberstaller said Mr Singh’s son Ranjit, a Cairns property lawyer, was his business associate and that Ranjit organised for his father to buy the property because the bank was about to foreclose on Mr Eberstaller and he did not wish to have a bad credit rating.

“An urgent fire sale is how you strike a good bargain,” Ranjit Singh said. “The key in business is if you know someone has a potential weakness, you exploit it.”

But Justice Pembroke dismissed Mr Eberstaller’s claim about the bank foreclosing.

Describing his behaviour as “obdurate and obstinate,” the judge said he put “one obstacle after another in the way of his wife's entitlement to have the property transferred to her name.”

The court heard that for months Ms Poulos had been trying to give her husband a bank cheque to pay out the $640,000 mortgage upon which Mr Eberstaller had to transfer the house to her.

The judge said his “wholly unreasonable lack of co-operation” was because of his “desire to hinder, delay or prevent his wife” from having the house.

“He thwarted her and engineered a sale to the second defendant … rather than to allow his wife to have the former matrimonial home.”

After a two-day hearing in December, Justice Pembroke set aside the contract to sell the house to Mr Singh and ordered Mr Eberstaller to transfer the property to his wife, which he did.

In May Justice Pembroke ordered Mr Eberstaller and Premjit Singh to pay Ms Poulos’ court costs of $148,278, which they are yet to do.

The NSW Court of Appeal recently rejected Mr Eberstaller’s appeal on jurisdictional grounds.

The businessman's complaint about Justice Pembroke to the Judicial Commission, claiming apprehended bias, was summarily dismissed.

“He made a character assassination in order to scare me off. I am a managing director and I have 3500 employees and I have never had someone say that to me ever,” Mr Eberstaller said. 

Ms Poulos declined to comment.

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