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How a wealthy couple paid $750,000 to move to Qld - then vanished into thin air

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A mysterious couple from Eastern Europe gave the Queensland Government $750,000 to move to Australia but then disappeared, leaving the money behind.

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Vitaly Novikov and Natalia Novikova sought to take advantage of a controversial migration program that allows visa applicants to invest in government bonds to secure their entry to Australia.

Through an immigration company based in Fortitude Valley, the couple transferred money to Link Market Services to invest in Queensland Bonds. The bonds are administered by the Queensland Treasury Corporation, guaranteed by the Queensland Government, and satisfy the criteria of the Business Innovation and Investment programs run by the Department of Home Affairs.

While little is known about Novikov and Novikova, to satisfy the process they would have made out to be even wealthier than that. Their initial investment was $750,000, understood to have been made in 2014, and earned them nearly $10,000 in annual interest in the years that followed.

Their money was required to be invested for at least four years before they could enter Australia but the couple never provided details of an Australian bank account, so never received the interest payments let alone the full amount on maturity in 2018.

It is not known whether Novikov and Novikova ever entered Australia, or whether they had plans to move to Queensland specifically. The Department of Home Affairs did not respond to inquiries, and nor did the Fortitude Valley immigration company.

The requirement for an Australian bank account is a fraud protection measure designed to prevent such programs being used for money laundering. Authorities have previously warned of the potential for government-guaranteed bonds to be misused, or the visa program rorted, however the final safeguard involves the money being withheld.

Queensland Bonds are considered a safe investment.

In a statement, the QTC said the application process itself involved screening by both the Department of Home Affairs and Link. Applicants are allowed to provide Australian bank account details later, but need them to make any money from the bonds.

“Link received the investment request, together with certain documentation, however the investors failed to provide Australian bank account details, which Link requested,” QTC said in a statement.

“Link’s practice is that if after 18 months Link is unable to pay funds to an investor, the owed monies are transferred to the Public Trustee. Accordingly, the interest payments and the final maturity payment were transferred to the Public Trustee over the life of the investment.”

Novikov and Novikova now have $827,6267.47 held by the Public Trustee, and due to the circumstances it will never be forfeited to the state. The original investment is the largest single amount of unclaimed money held by the Public Trustee – and $300,000 more than the largest amount ever claimed.

Efforts by InQueensland to contact Novikov and Novikova have so far proved unsuccessful. Their last known address was care of the Fortitude Valley immigration company.

The Morrison Government is making changes to a much larger visa program, requiring more significant investment, to help support Australia’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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