From Andrew Drummond, Labuan, Sabah, North Borneo
June 6 2011
He has been described as ‘a charmer’ and a ‘gentleman and a scholar’ but if David Elias had ever had those attributes they did not come to the fore during his last years commuting around the world from this tiny island off the coast of North Borneo.
David Elias has also been described as a ‘Reggie Perrin’ – a British comic television character played by Leonard Rossiter, and more recently by Martin Clunes, who faked his own death to solve all his problems .
British newspapers leapt on information from some Serious Fraud Office investigators who think he is still alive.
But the former tycoon and fraudster, who stole the pensions of tens of thousands of people actually had a very public death after drinking himself to oblivion on this duty free island – Malaysia’s bottle shop island in the sun.
And there was nothing comic about David Elias’ frauds.
During his drinking bouts he often had to flee violent quarrels with his 40-yr-old wife Nicola, from Woolwich, sometimes climbing over the fence to seek refuge with a neighbour.
Witnesses report how his eyes turned yellow months before his death and his body became bloated with 37 ounces of fluid his liver could not process. His gentlemanly style had gone. The charmer had become a ‘real piece of work’ as one resident tactfully put it.
That he had cheated customers of Keydata and SLS out of Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£180 million is probably a very conservative estimate. It may have been three times as much. The fact is, it is a wonder his frauds had not attracted a lot more publicity given his apparent total lack of business ethics and morality.
Here on Labuan feeling are running high in the expatriate community about Mr Elias, and his wife Nicola, who reportedly accepted his proposal eleven years ago, on condition he gave her a monthly allowance of Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£5,000, has been left faciing the brunt of resentment.
A photograph circulates through the small community of expatriates. In the picture is Nicola Elias in a dress with a plunging neckline and on her head she is wearing the sign ‘Bitch’. People do not believe she knew nothing.
‘The fact is Elias not only swindled people he did not know but also his friends and neighbours on the island,’ said one resident, ‘and she had promised to put things right but of course it never happened.’
Today Nicola, Nicky Elias, lives part time with her new companion, a Scottish financial broker, in a Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£2,000 a month rented home just 500 yards away from ‘Surrender Point’ on the south west corner of the island. Surrender Point is where Japanese Imperial Forces surrendered to British & Commonwealth Forces at the end of the Second World War.
In the parkway sits her top of the range Mercedes, which somehow the liquidator never managed to get. On the back seat of her companion’s Daihatsu was a board game called ‘Cash Flow’ suitable for ‘9-11 year olds’. For some, it seems, this financial money business sounds like a good bus to take a ride on.
Although Nicola appeared at a window several times she refused to come to the gate. Instead she sent out her Malaysian maid who gesticulated with her hands for journalists to ‘shove off’.
Later by phone she said: ‘My husband is definitely dead – and there are no secret millions hidden away.
‘If there were billions of pounds stashed away somewhere, do you think I’d be living in a small two-bedroom bungalow? I would have got my mitts on it and I would be out of here and living in the Cayman Islands with Lord Lucan.
“I am pretty sure I remember bringing my husband’s dead body back from Singapore to Malaysia and was at his funeral. He lay in our house overnight.
Hamming it up for the camerass, but how much was true to life?
‘Unless he has a secret twin brother I didn’t know about, he is definitely dead. Half of Labuan were at the funeral’.
Not many people here believe much that comes out of the mouth of Nicola Elias – except of course that her husband is dead. Nobody knows what she has got her ‘mitts on’.
Mr. and Mrs. Elias’ small pad on Labuan but he also kept the Penthouse at the Hyatt Regency in Singapore
British executive jet pilot Godfrey Cornish-Underwood, 65, who was present at Elias’ funeral party at his home in Jalan Sungei Labu, on Labuan said: ‘I went because no matter one felt about David Elias it seemed the proper thing to do as he was a neighbour. I saw him laid out in his cask so I know it was him. Had I not seen it for myself I would not perhaps have believed it. He would have had the capability of making a perfect Madame Tussauds waxworks image of himself but I am sure his body was real.”
Captain Underwood said he was reluctant to talk too much about his former boss because he did not want to upset the family but he did concede that Elias had drawn out a lot of hate from the community.
Gulf Jetstream G4 – at the airport at St.Mortitz before it was impounded
Formerly Deputy Head of Training at Brunei Airlines Cornish-Underwood said Elias had tried for over a year to lure him to be a pilot for his private Gulf Jetstream executive jets. Eventually he agreed at a 50 per cent salary increase. It was good for one year but eventually all the pilots flying Gulf Jestream G4s and G5s were left out of pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds each.
Godfrey’s last trip was to escort a party to St. Moritz for Christmas 2008 and then back to Glasgow for New Year 2009 and the Scottish Hogmanay. The flight never returned to Scotland. It was impounded in Berlin – reason, unpaid bills. The leasing company the Executive Jet Group were calling in their planes.
Two British and two American pilots had to find their own way home as well as the stewardesses. There was no love lost. Godfrey was separately commissioned to fly Thailand’s ousted Prime Minister from Nicaragua to Dubai.
Said one crew member contacted by phone: ‘Towards the end David Elias was just an arrogant drunk. After the plane landed he just wanted to continue drinking. Often the aircraft would sit on the apron for hours on end as he continued drinking champagne. But he would become furious if his limo was not on hand.”
The catamaran Moecca to be chartered to the rich and famous.
David Reeves, another neighbour of Elias’ in Labuan, was a former ships craftsman who used to work for the Royal Brunei Navy.
“When I met him I considered him to be an absolute gentleman and a scholar,” said Mr Reeves. “He was perfectly charming”.
“He had bought a catamaran the ‘Moecca’ and commissioned me out of retirement to fit new decks’.
The Moecca was part of Elias’ failed ‘Dragon Blaze’ venture to charter yachts to the rich and famous – a venture which must have taken quite a few of the missing millions.
“I did so. But in the process I built up bills of Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£20,000 in the process. But he never paid. I still send the bills to his wife Nicola, but she does not even acknowledge them.’
View from inside the catamaran
Much of the resentment on the island is due to the fact that Nicola Elias does not appear to be suffering. The liquidators did not get their hands on her top of the range Mercedes and said one local resident: ‘There is a groundswell of opinion that she has acquired a large patch of land formerly owned by her husband and if now developing it for her own profit.
“She has told us that she never intends to leave Labuan and we believe her. She has nowhere to go and Labuan is perfectly safe for her. LOFSA the Labuan Offshore Financial Services Agency is very secretive. They will not tell anybody what she earns or owns. She can have land here and nobody will ever know.
Labuan Waterfront may look glitzy but behind the charade Labuan is a bottle-shop in the sun with few places to go
“She has a quiet life, rarely gets up before midday and just goes into town for shopping, frequently to a bottle shop.”
The resident described the relationship between David and Nicola as ‘fiery’ and ‘fuelled by alcohol in the last days’.
“David Elias frequently had to flee his own home after being attacked by Nicky but he would eventually go back saying ‘I have done the Cresta Run for heaven’s sake! Why should I be scared of her?”
When Elias was finally admitted to hospital in Singapore he was accompanied by Indonesian Luh Putu Bayuni Lestari (left), a female butler at the exclusive Bulgari resort in Bali. Elias had originally consulted Singapore’s now notorious surgeon Dr. Susan Lim and had reportedly put her on a Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£200,000 a month retainer to find a liver transplant.
(Dr. Lim faces charges of massively padding her bills, often on work carried out by other surgeons.
Between 2004 and 2007 she billed over Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£20 million and has been accused of bumping up one bill from Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£100 to Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£100,000. She is currently being questioned by the Brunei Royal Family over her bills for treating younger sister of Brunei’s Queen and a cousin of the Sultan for breast cancer. The woman died in August 2007.)
It is reported that Elias called off the deal with Susan Lim and instead hoped to find a cure with a Canadian doctor by using stem cell surgery. In any event it never came to anything. After a relapse, when he retired to his penthouse suite at the Singapore Hyatt Regency and went on a binge, his body gave up on him.
True to form in death as in life he left the Hyatt Regency with an unpaid Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£500,000 bill.
Are some of Elias’ missing millions invested in this land being developed on Labuan?
Did David Elias think he could buy off death? And where was the money going to come from? Earlier this year Bruno Geissmann, chief executive of Brunei-based insurer Orion Life,says met up Elias on Labuan before his death to discuss his company’s direct investments into SLS Capital SA and Life Settlements Capital SA.Elias said that he had assets tied up in the Brazilian rainforest.
Geissmann said that some Amazon rainforest assets had been found of ‘quite substantial value’ and so the insurer decided to inform its policyholders of the development.
‘Many legal steps have to be done. There is a quite substantial value and that some assets have been found. It made sense for us to inform our policyholders of that.’…………Nobody is holding their breath.
An indication that Elias had lost his ‘Midas Touch’ was fuelled by his plan to open a wildlife park on an island, which he said he had bought for US$20 million off the coast of Africa, on which he planned to open a ‘Wildlife Park’ for non-carnivorous wild animals. He thought people would flock to the island where animals did not eat each other.
This is no doubt connected to his friend billionaire Sivasankaran Chinnakaran, an Indian, who mysteriously received the title ‘Ambassador at Large’ from the Seychelles Prime Minister James Michel, and who bought Therese Island in the Seychelles, among other things, and was an investor in Elias’s Dragon Blaze.
Elias mixed with the rich and famous. From Lord Rothschild at the top of the scale to Richard Desmond, who acquired Express Newspapers. He even employed Ernest Saunders former Chief Executive of Guinness. He fell out and had legal problems with all of them.
By 1995 he had made the Sunday Times Rich List. Today his ashes are not so much in the Borneo jungle, as has been romantically reported, but scattered on an island island of which the main tourist attraction appears to be a ‘Chimney’ built by the British to ventilate a coal mine.
Pictures: Andrew Chant/others
Link to Mail on Sunday