*Accusations Fly Over Failed Jungle Investment
Karen people are concerned they could be victims of a number of fraudulent investment scams. The following story in the Sydney Morning Herald builds on warnings from civil society groups over Chinese businesses funding massive unfettered projects in Myawaddy District.
Australian entrepreneur Nigel Grier presents as a successful, sustainability innovator helping save the world while making people rich.
He has recruited investors to help build a city from scratch for refugees in Myanmar. He has even offered to rehouse two bears kept in cramped conditions in the south-east Asian country.
However, Mr Grier is fending off complaints from investors and contractors who accuse him of misleading conduct. He and one of his companies have been sued in Singapore and ordered to repay at least $US35,000.
As one investor said: “He is so credible. The way he talks, and what he talks about, you just want it to be true. But then he fails to deliver.”
Mr Grier, who resides in Western Australia, denies any wrongdoing and said he is the subject of a smear campaign, blaming former business partners.
The court action relates to Mu Aye Pu, a collection of bamboo huts in Myanmar’s Karen state. Villagers there have been displaced or made refugees by more than 60 years of civil war.
In July 2017, Mr Grier announced big plans. Through Karen Enterprises, of which he was the sole shareholder, and in partnership with local Karen leader Major General Nerdah Bo Mya and another investor, Mr Grier issued a prospectus for a master plan calling for investors to support a new “free city”, designed by a prestigious Singaporean architect. They also proposed a teaching hotel, a guesthouse, luxury hotels and accommodation for 100,000 people.
Partly thanks to the great sales pitch by Mr Grier, the project raised about $US350,000. But after a series of missed deadlines, broken promises and infighting among Mr Grier and his partners, it became clear it would not happen.
General Nerdah told the Herald he was furious and disappointed that all the help, time and effort his people gave to Mr Grier, it came to nothing. He feels for investors who lost money but said the biggest losers were the people of Karen.
He said the project’s failure deprived “Karen kids of schools and people of having houses. The money was given to him by people who wanted to help Karen refugees and displaced people.”
General Nerdah issued an official statement in late 2019 accusing Mr Grier over his behaviour. “Please do not invite him for your conference,” the statement from the Karen National Defence Organisation said.
American expatriate Guy Harriman, who runs a yoga school in Chang Mai, Thailand, lost $US130,000 on the failed project. While he says he is not personally worried about the loss, he is devastated for the Karen people.
“We’re dealing with some of the most underprivileged people on the planet,” he said.
In March 2019 in the state court of Singapore, a US investor, US company and a Japanese investor filed a claim against Mr Grier and Karen Enterprises. It said Mr Grier “created a false element of urgency to pressure the plaintiff to invest in the sham projects” and alleged misleading conduct, deceit and fraudulent conduct.
Mr Grier did not defend himself and a default judgment without any findings on the merits was obtained against him and Karen Enterprises. The court automatically entered judgment in favour of the three investors and on April 10 ordered Karen Enterprises to pay each $US10,000, $US10,000 and $US15,000 respectively, plus court costs of $1000.
The Singaporean lawyer for the plaintiff, Gerard Quek, said no money has been forthcoming since.
Mr Grier said the legal action was a “vexatious suit … as such I did not prioritise responding to it.”
He said he was taking action to have the decision set aside. A Singaporean legal team has been engaged, Mr Grier said, but courts are not currently hearing civil matters.
Mr Grier said in a statement that he had delivered the master plan for Mu Aye Pu as promised by December 2018. This consisted of ” a 3D architectural model with the ability to do a “fly through” of the proposed Mu Aye Pu Free City”.
But he said the next stage stalled when “a key member of the consortia … decided to leave. This has impacted the ongoing viability of the project.”
He also said all funds raised were spent on delivering the master plan.
He said investors in another part of the project, Karen Tourism Holdings, could get refunds if they wished.
“I am saddened that individuals are putting personal vendettas ahead of furthering what could be a very successful project for the Karen people,” Mr Grier said.
Mr Grier is a convincing speaker who frequently mentions his connections with consular staff, prominent businesspeople and politicians. He shows investors photos with former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. There is no suggestion Mr Turnbull had any knowledge or involvement in Mr Grier’s financial affairs.
Another of Mr Grier’s plea for funds is a charitable effort to rehouse two Asian black bears being kept in cramped conditions in Karen.
“IDPM [Mr Grier’s company] have been resourcing this project and we’ve employed Dr Sabine, otherwise known as the jungle doctor,” he tells viewers in an online video posted in 2019.
He calls for donors to invest up to a total of $US25,000 to build a bigger and better enclosure for the bears, and also to help with $US500 per month running costs. In the video, Mr Grier says IDPM will pay $US5000 for the enclosure and $US100 per month running costs.
However, “Dr Sabine Roper” a German, who looks after the bears, says she has not yet been paid, and both the animals and a group of Karen children she looks after have been left high and dry.
“He keeps promising and promising until you have shared your last spaghetti with your hungry bear cubs and lie awake hungry at night!” she said in an online forum.
Mr Grier strongly denied this and said he had paid Dr Roper from October 2019 through to April.
“Unfortunately, the video did not gain traction with no money being raised at any point for Dr Sabine or the bears,” a statement from Mr Grier said.
He said legal action was being prepared by a New York-based legal team in relation to a number of websites set up to criticise him.
“The action, which was originally specified as ‘John Doe’ will now be the subject of public domain court proceedings,” Mr Grier said.
Currently due to COVID-19, courts in New York are not hearing civil matters.
*This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11 April 2020