Behind an Aussie billionaire’s Queenstown buys

An Australian billionaire is embracing life in New Zealand, spending millions of dollars buying up two parcels of prime Queenstown land and eyeing up an investment in a huge Lake Wakatipu farm.

Tim Roberts, a Rich Lister businessman and investor worth an estimated $A986 million ($NZ1.1 billion), spent $4.2 million earlier this year buying 12 hectares of land at Speargrass Flat, between Queenstown and Arrowtown.

In another purchase rubber-stamped by the Overseas Investment Office, Roberts – through company 100WPS Ltd – has bought 40 hectares of lakefront land at Walter Peak Station, across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, near where the historic steamship TSS Earnslaw takes tourists on farm tours.

The sum is secret but it’s fair to assume Roberts shelled out millions.

Using the Official Information Act, Newsroom has obtained Roberts’ Overseas Investment Office’s (OIO) application for the Walter Peak purchase.

The application reveals Roberts had been negotiating to be a minor investor in a pastoral lease at Halfway Bay – a 16,700 hectare farm station on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu, midway between Queenstown and Kingston.

“If final agreement is reached, this will be his first business investment in New Zealand,” the OIO application says.

Companies Office records show Roberts’ company Half Ltd is a 24.9 percent shareholder in Halfway Bay Station Ltd. The 75.1 percent owner is Chris Ellison, the managing director of ASX-listed company Mineral Resources. Roberts is an independent director on Mineral Resources’ board.

Lake Wakatipu Station Ltd has asked Queenstown’s council to rezone 32.5 hectares of Halfway Bay Station to “rural visitor”. Government documents list Lake Wakatipu Station as the station’s lessee.

During hearings in June, the company’s landscape planner Stephen Skelton told commissioners that buildings of up to 12 metres in height could be “reasonably difficult to see” if built on certain parts of the site. “I consider there is scope for considerable rural visitor-type development to occur within the site without adversely affecting the quality and character of the landscape.”

However, the local council has concerns, partly over a lack of information about what is proposed. It recommends rejecting the zoning over worries that a large, high-density development could be built in what is a rural area.

Newsroom asked Roberts to comment for this story. We asked him to confirm if he’d finalised his proposed investment at Halfway Bay, what the plans are for the farming station and whether he was now living in New Zealand full-time. He didn’t respond by publication deadline.

Spending millions more

It’s clear from Roberts’ OIO application that he’s about to spend millions more at his newly-bought Walter Peak property.

His OIO application says he intends “constructing his own home and enjoying a rural lifestyle” on it. The balance will be used for farming and “recreational purposes”.

“Looking into the future, the property can be categorised as a large lifestyle property.”

That parcel of Walter Peak has an interesting history. Carved off from Walter Peak Station, it was bought for $10 million in 2006 by former high-flying developer Rod Nielsen, who announced plans to build a $50 million resort there. Plans were drawn up for residences and a luxury lodge.

But Nielsen’s company went under in 2008 and Walter Peak’s Israeli owners spent years re-acquiring the titles by enforcing loans.

The Walter Peak land contains eight approved residential building platforms ranging between 1161 square metres and 1498 square metres, and a 4.2 hectare lot where a luxury tourist lodge was meant to be built. There’s already a water scheme, wastewater and treatment plant and a generator. Substantial landscaping’s already been done.

(About 18 hectares is native vegetation and 14 hectares is farm paddocks, on which Walter Peak livestock will continue to graze. The balance of 7.6 hectares comprises residential-zoned land. Roberts has also been assigned a 33-year lease for a marina.)

Roberts' OIO application said: “The investment will also enable Mr Roberts to enjoy the rural lifestyle in Queenstown, and to actively involve [himself] in local communities, charities and adventures.”

Adopting Aotearoa

The wealthy businessman, who has a concentration of investments in Western Australia, signalled to the OIO he was moving to New Zealand indefinitely, from August. Many of his personal items had already been shipped to Queenstown, he said.

Roberts’ lawyer, Catherne Reid, included in his OIO application a copy of a story in Queenstown’s community newspaper, Mountain Scene, as further proof of his intentions to relocate to the resort.

He told the paper in April: “I’ve been coming over regularly for years. Queenstown’s a unique part of the world and I have lots of friends there. So with what it can offer, if you talk about mountain biking, adventure, outdoors and aviation, I’m now choosing to make it my home.”

Roberts debuted on the Australian Financial Review’s Rich List this year, with an estimated net worth of $A986 million. He shared $A1.2 billion from the sale of family company Multiplex in 2007. Since then Roberts has invested in residential and commercial properties, managed funds, aircraft ownership and trading, yacht chartering, farming and aquaculture.

Multiplex was Australia’s largest privately-owned company before it was publicly listed in 2003. Four years later, it was taken over by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management, in a $A7.3 billion deal.

The company was behind London’s disastrous Wembley Stadium project. According to a report in Britain’s Observer newspaper, it was finished four years late and cost £900m – double the estimated build cost.

In his OIO application, Roberts discloses Multiplex’s alleged failure in 2005 to meet continuous disclosure obligations, over a delay in announcing a profit forecast. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission decided not to bring proceedings.

Roberts also fills in the OIO on an article in the Australian Financial Review from April last year, over the use of a British Virgin Island company to own a $US65 million Gulfstream 650 private jet linked to Roberts.

Roberts threatened the AFR with defamation action but didn’t pursue it “as it would involve costly litigation”.

The article’s source information was files from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, used in a series of stories known as the Panama Papers.

Roberts’ OIO application explains that British Virgin Islands companies are “widely understood and accepted by buyers and sellers” of aircraft and “the aircraft was never used or operated by Timothy Roberts”.

He told the AFR that finance companies and banks prefer to own aircraft through the British Virgin Islands. “I pay all of my tax,” he told the paper. “I’m absolutely scrupulous.”

According to the Mountain Scene, Roberts’ philanthropic organisation has donated $A20 million to various charities over the last five years.

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