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Monday, June 26, 2017

Malaysian tycoon implicated in Australian retirement homes scandal

Investigation by news organisations reveal horror stories of residents at retirement homes run by Aveo, chaired by Lee Seng Huang, but the company denies any improper practice.
Lee-Seng-Huang-home-scandal-1-1KUALA LUMPUR: A scandal has erupted in Australia over a swindling racket allegedly run by Australia’s largest listed retirement village operator, Aveo, of which a prominent Malaysian is majority shareholder.
Lee Seng Huang, 42, of Mulpha International Bhd, is reported to own a 22.6% stake in Aveo, worth A$400 million (RM1.301 billion). Mulpha is Malaysia’s largest real estate investor and developer in Australia.
Aveo and Lee, its non-executive chairman, are now said to be under scrutiny by the Australian authorities.
Reports say Aveo, Australia’s biggest ASX-listed retirement village operator with more than 13,000 residents across 89 villages around the country, is ripping off its residents through high fees and other unfair practices.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a joint Fairfax Media-Four Corners investigation had uncovered a “litany of questionable business practices” at Aveo including churning of residents, fee gouging, safety issues and misleading marketing promises “made to some of the country’s most vulnerable people”.
The investigation, it said, found that many retirees did not even know what they were signing until it was too late. It documented some of the horror stories told by those affected.
Fairfax Media is an Australian publishing house while Four Corners is a current affairs documentary programme by Australian broadcaster ABC.
Those affected claim that Aveo’s glossy brochures and slick marketing misled investors into buying and later selling or being forced to exit their homes in the retirement villages to create more profits.
These, people interviewed claimed, were done through dubious means and questionable business practices.
“This model to me is a ‘get poor quick scheme’ for the individual investor in a property or retirement village, and it’s a get rich quick scheme for the operator of the retirement village,” former Aveo resident John Lander was quoted as saying in a video clip posted on the Four Corners’ Facebook account.
And Lander, 72, is no ordinary man. He was Australia’s first ambassador to Iran. He claimed he lost A$78,000 after two years of investing in an Aveo home.
But Aveo has denied the accusations made by residents of the retirement homes and others interviewed.
It was reported that Aveo, which has a market capital of A$1.6 billion, doubled its profits to A$116 million last year.
Aveo’s majority stakeholder is Malaysian conglomerate Mulpha International Berhad, which is 40% owned by the Lee family. Seng Huang, the youngest son of tycoon Lee Ming Tee, is the executive chairman of Mulpha.
According to reports, Ming Tee was jailed a year in 2004 for falsifying corporate documents to escape Hong Kong’s share disclosure laws over his Allied Overseas Investments firm in the 1990s.
The family owns a string of assets in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Paris, London and Southeast Asia.
The Age reported that Aveo Group shares plunged more than 11% in the wake of the investigative reports. The company’s shares shed 34 cents to close trade on Monday at A$2.71.
It said Lee declined to comment on the allegations made in the Fairfax-Four Corners report.
Aveo, too, declined to be interviewed for the story but in a 19-page response to questions it “denied it was more aggressive than other operators, denied it had a policy to churn residents”.
Aveo said its more recent contracts were simpler and gave residents more certainty about the costs of moving in and moving out, according to The Age.
The Age said that to achieve its profits, Aveo had a stated target turnover of 10% to 12% of residents each year, equivalent to 1,200 units changing hands a year. That turnover target was high by industry standards, it said.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran interviews with videos on the alleged rip-off, calling some of the information shared by residents as “horror stories”.
One resident, for instance, talked about how she was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric department at the retirement home to punish her and “silence me with drugs”.
Gwyneth Jones claimed: “They had me deliberately diagnosed with this particular form of dementia so that they would have ammunition in which to evict me… I don’t have dementia, and everybody knows that.”
The Sydney Morning Herald report said documents obtained by Jones through a freedom of information request into her health records supported her accusations of a deliberate plan being hatched to evict her from her home at the retirement village.
The report recounted the experience of 86-year-old John Hayto who was attracted by the promise of safety and emergency services.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he was still in a rehabilitation centre after a fall seven months ago which left him on the floor of his Aveo unit for five days without food, water or medication.
The report said about 200,000 Australians live in retirement villages in the country.
The 19-page response, the Age report said, also contained private personal and medical information of its residents, much of which was refuted by the residents in question.
This itself has created controversy and the question of whether it is ethical, with those named being unhappy.
The company said in a statement: “Aveo has sought to provide full and frank answers to the detailed questions it was asked, while also taking care to ensure that none of these residents are identified or are identifiable in its answers.
“Therefore, to the extent that any limited health information is outlined, it is not personal information about an identified person and Aveo is able to disclose it.”
The Age quoted Gerard Brody from the Consumer Action Law Centre as saying it was “really worrying” as the company had not got “specific consent to use personal information”. -FMT

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