Australia's most famous tax cheat in Ostrich scheme

by Chris Griffith
Published 27 Oct 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Australia's most famous convicted tax cheat, Gold Coast-based bottom-of-the-harbour scheme target Brian James Maher, 59, is being sued over his alleged involvement in the ostrich investment industry.

In a plaint lodged in the Southport District Court, Maher, his wife Marie Therese Maher, and the company Ostrich International (Leasing) Pty Ltd are being sued for $63,000 by Gold Coast couple Ian and Pamela Ann Gawthorne.

Yesterday Mr Maher would not comment on the legal action.

However the company targetted in the legal action - investment company Ostrich International (Leasing) Pty Ltd was registered only recently, on 21 February this year.

It's sole director and secretary is Marie Therese Maher - Brian Maher's wife.

Mr Maher is neither a company director nor a shareholder, but his listed business address coincides with the company's registered address in the National Mutual Arcade in Southport.

Yesterday, Mr and Mrs Gawthorne refused to comment on their legal action.

In 1985 Mr Maher and business associate, former Queensland squash champion John Patrick Donnelly, faced a spectacular and controversial trial which lasted 94 days, called 49 crown witnesses, sifted through 10,000 documents, and took 8 days to reach a verdict.

Maher was declared bankrupt and convicted of defrauding the Commonwealth between 1972 and 1978, and of having conspired to defraud Penola Homes Pty Ltd of $127,534 in 1975-76.

His bankruptcy was in contrast to the former Gold Coast millionaire's opulent lifestyle in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Maher and his companies owned an enormous Surfers Paradise mansion, a Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and a $3 million luxury yacht.

In 1977, he was reported as holding a famous week-long party costing $250,000 during which hundreds of Maher employees, business associates, and friends, consumed cartons of French champagne and caviar.

But his dream lifestyle ended when he became a prime target in the Australian Federal Police's famous early 1980s four-year investigation of bottom-of-the-tax evasion worth $400 million.

Maher's tax-minimisation scheme involved finding people with very high taxable incomes and offering them a tax-loss company at 26 cents in the dollar.

He was sentenced to five years jail, but released on bail in July 1987.

Even his bankruptcy in 1985 became a gala event, with the sale of his mansion to controversial bookmaker Terry Page.

(In 1993, Page himself was convicted of SP bookmaking and money laundering, and was fined $2.72 million under the Crimes Confiscation of Profits Act.)

In the early stages of his legal defence, Maher engaged the state's best legal brains, including (later commissioner) Tony Fitzgerald, QC, and (now judge) Paul de Jersey, QC. Later he represented himself.

Maher's brush with the law has continued since the 1980s.

In December 1994, he pleaded guilty to misusing $175,000 in a computer betting scheme. He had placed investors' money in his personal account. He was given a suspended three-year jail sentence after offering to repay his clients.

Ostrich International is not the only company which seems to be attracting the authorities' interest.

Last month, the Amaroo Ostrich Farm Pty Ltd was placed into liquidation and has been investigated by the tax office.