The authenticity of loan document signatures and an apparent confession letter have been questioned in a multi-million-dollar legal dispute involving Griffith’s largest shopping mall.
As Region exclusively reported, Griffith Central owner Frank Violi has given evidence in an ongoing non-criminal Supreme Court case regarding contested loans totalling $22 million between two large investment firms, for which the mall was allegedly used as security.
Mr Violi’s former associate Jason La Rocca and Sydney-based lawyer Fred David are also involved in the same civil case.
The case is being contested in the Supreme Court’s civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to money or property and is not a criminal matter.
Mr Violi, Mr La Rocca and Mr David have not been charged with any offences in relation to this loan dispute.
According to court documents, Gemi 169 Pty Ltd allegedly loaned Suria Global Pty Ltd a total of $22 million via two loans in 2020 and 2021.
Mr Violi is alleged to be one of the guarantors of these loans, though his company F & L Violi Pty Ltd.
The court was told a mortgage was allegedly taken out over Griffith Central as security for the loans.
However, Mr Violi denied knowledge of the loans and said he was a victim of fraud, claiming the security was granted without his knowledge or consent.
He is adamant he did not sign the loan documents.
Court documents state Mr La Rocca was allegedly present and involved in the loan transactions, while Mr David allegedly acted as a legal representative for the borrowers.
In January 2022, Gemi 169 issued default notices to Suria Global and F & L Violi, alleging repayment of the loans was overdue.
Gemi 169 took the matter to the Supreme Court to seek a resolution.
In June 2022, Supreme Court Justice François Kunc approved an application by Gemi 169 to authorise searches of properties owned by the defendants.
The publication of this decision provided insights into the dispute over who may have signed the loan documents on Frank Violi’s behalf, though no conclusion was reached.
The published decision states Mr La Rocca provided handwritten documents to lawyers for Gemi 169, on which he wrote Frank Violi’s name several times.
A table comparing Frank Violi’s name as written by Jason La Rocca and the signatures as they appeared on loan documents was compiled and tendered as evidence.
“No expert evidence was available at this time to determine whether they were, in fact, written by the same person, but the Court is satisfied that there was at least sufficient evidence to show that further expert investigation of the signatures is plainly warranted,” Justice Kunc wrote in his decision.
Evidence tendered in the court case also included a letter purportedly written by Mr David confessing to having taken out the loan and using the mall as security without Mr Violi’s consent.
Through his lawyers, Mr David “categorically and emphatically” denied he wrote this letter.
Justice Kunc said the contents of the letter “raise more questions than they answer”.
“There are several centimetres of white space before Fred David’s alleged signature and signature block … at the very bottom of the page. Furthermore, the letter appears to use more than one typeface,” the published decision states.
The judge did not make a finding about who may have written this letter.
Mr David and Mr La Rocca were both contacted for comment.
Mr Violi told Region he has done nothing wrong and will strenuously defend himself against all allegations.
The 69-year-old said the ongoing court case will not impact Griffith’s biggest shopping centre.
“The mall is doing very well. We have some more retailers moving in soon. In three months’ time, I expect the mall will be fully tenanted for the first time ever in its history,” he said.
Griffith Central first opened in October 2007. It was owned by Melbourne-based Israeli-Australian investors for its first 12 years of operation before being bought by Mr Violi in 2019.
The Supreme Court case on the disputed loans will resume later this month.
Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.