While Tristan fought for his country, his money disappeared
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While Tristan fought for his country, his money disappeared

Tristan Chapman was in Afghanistan fighting for his country when an investment he made to secure his family’s future started to unravel.

Before heading overseas Chapman had put his money into schemes run by ASX-listed Great Southern after attending a conference by financial adviser and former bankrupt Steve Navra, who now operates in Melbourne under the name Steve Navratil with a new business My Property Mentor.

Great Southern investor Tristan Chapman with his family.

Great Southern investor Tristan Chapman with his family.

When the 20-year Air Force veteran approached Navra for investment advice, Chapman was earning $80,000 a year and his family was living in a defence house in regional Queensland.

Navra's cocktail evenings and seminars were the stuff of legend, along with the whiteboards he would use to map out his complex investment strategies. “He was on the cover of a magazine saying how good he was,” Chapman remembers.

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In 2007, Navra posed for a photo in a national paper where he described Great Southern’s investments - into which he said he was planning to sink millions of dollars of his own money - as "a kind of defacto super scheme".

In hindsight, Chapman says the advisor was “the king of bullshit”.  According to the National Personal Insolvency Index, Navra had been bankrupt for nine months from September 2001 before the bankruptcy was annulled after his debts were settled.

By May 2009, Great Southern had collapsed, leaving Chapman - and thousands of others - with almost worthless investments and massive debts. Many had been told the loans they had taken out to invest in Great Southern's plantations were non-recourse, meaning they wouldn’t be on the hook if the investment turned sour.

Bendigo calls itself a community bank, it’s anything but a community bank the way it behaves.

Tristan Chapman

It was then that the nightmare began as the country’s fifth largest retail bank, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, determinedly pursued Chapman and thousands of investors for hundreds of millions of dollars in loans.

By 2015, mentally and physically shattered, Chapman went into bankruptcy, nominating a trustee. But Bendigo replaced the trustee with its own.

Great Southern investor Tristan Chapman during his time in the military.

Great Southern investor Tristan Chapman during his time in the military.

The $93,600 loan had ballooned to $185,000 as hefty interest payments of more than 10 per cent accrued. “We felt there was no other option, there was no help available,” he said.

But says he is disgusted by the treatment of Bendigo and the bankruptcy trustee in its pursuit of debts. In 2017 he had open heart surgery after his cardiologist told him he was a “ticking bomb”.

He claimed a $150,000 trauma payout on his life insurance policy, which he says was immediately seized by the trustee and paid to Bendigo.

Steve Navra

Steve NavraCredit:Rebecca Hallas

“Bendigo calls itself a community bank, it’s anything but a community bank the way it behaves,” he says.

Bendigo says it is "confident we have acted fairly and reasonably towards borrowers in a consistent and ethical manner". It says that cases of inappropriate advice and fraudulent loans “are matters that should be addressed with… advisors directly”.

On Chapman, it says his "bankruptcy was overseen by a registered trustee, and the bank was one of several creditors.

"The bank does not know anything about Mr Chapman’s insurance payout, nor his heart surgery”.

Chapman was last week discharged from bankruptcy and says the bulk of his debts were to Bendigo.

He regrets he ever met Navra, who was dubbed a "pinup boy for bad financial advice" during a senate committee hearing in 2015 that raked over Great Southern, Timbercorp and other managed investment scheme disasters.

According to evidence given to the committee, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had identified Navra clients who "may have" recieved inappropriate advice. The Navra Group liquidated in late 2011 and Navra himself entered bankruptcy in 2012.

Navra was discharged in 2015 and has since launched a new Melbourne business, My Property Mentor.

For a time, before the Great Southern collapse, Navra even based himself in Great Southern's own office in North Sydney. In evidence given to the parliamentary committee by a former Navra employee and investor, Navra was estimated to have pocketed as much as $5 million in commissions and other incentives from Great Southern investors before the company's collapse.

Navra denies any wrongdoing, telling Fairfax Media that he didn’t give his clients inappropriate advice. He said Great Southern forced him into bankruptcy in 2010 but he is now discharged. On the 2001 bankruptcy, he says his debts were settled and he believes the record of bankruptcy is an error.

He said he changed his name from Navra to Navratil after his father died and requested in his will that he revert back to his father's name.

“It was purely to honour his memory,” he says.

And Navra believes he has been unfairly targeted in parliament.

“If I had done something wrong ASIC would have taken action against me,” he says. “I’m an elderly person in my 60s working month by month.”

An ASIC spokesman said it had investigated Navra following concerns about his advice, which was finalised once it was determined Navra was bankrupt and no longer in the financial advice industry.

The regulator said it was aware Navra was now providing advice on property investment, but said this did not appear to be “financial advice” under the Corporations Act.

Navra's Record

Excerpts from Bitter Harvest, a report by the senate Economics References Committee published March 2016:.

"Steve Navra was another individual whose name was mentioned in a number of submissions as an example of a disreputable adviser continuing to operate in the industry. For example, one investor stated: I have heard that Mr Navra (who provided the advice to my family, friends and I) has moved to Victoria and is again providing advice to unsuspecting investors. I am saddened to hear that this is the case and sincerely hope that his new clients do not have an experience like mine.

"It should be noted that ASIC's analysis of Navra Group client files identified clients who may have received inappropriate advice. Accordingly, ASIC has instructed Navra Group to write to those clients informing them that the advice provided to them matched some ASIC indicators of inappropriate advice. Even so, ASIC has not taken any action against Mr Navra, who is not listed on ASIC's Financial Advisers' Register. The Navra Group went into liquidation in September 2011.

"Mr Steve Navra was a significant seller of Great Southern products between 2006 and 2009 and, according to a number of submitters, engaged in unethical practices."

Read the full investigation tomorrow.

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