ACT News

Government buildings in public servant's $1 billion Malaysian property deal

Several high-profile Commonwealth government buildings were included in a failed $1 billion property proposal involving the Malaysian government and a senior ACT public servant.

In 2014 Nic Manikis, then a senior official at the Community Services Directorate, tried to broker the deal through a Singapore-incorporated company called Ladylaw Securities, of which he was one of the directors.

Former ACT public servant Nic Manikis has been caught up in a $1billion property deal saga with the Malaysian government.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

An investment proposal written by Ladylaw Securities and signed by Mr Manikis included details of seven target properties for purchase by Malaysia's state-controlled Employees Provident Fund.

On the list of target investments was Aviation House, an office block on Furzer Street in Phillip, which was leased at the time by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Public Service Commission.

Woden's Sirius building, home to the Department of Health, formed part of the $1 billion Malaysian property deal.  Photo: Meredith Clisby

The Sirius building, home to the Department of Health, was on the list, as was the Department of Defence's office park in Majura.

Tuggeranong's Caroline Chisholm building, leased by the Department of Human Services, was also discussed as a prospective investment.

Three other buildings outside of Canberra were to be looked at as part of the deal, including the Qantas headquarters in Mascot, Sydney, and a NSW government office complex in Queanbeyan.

The investment proposal prepared by Ladylaw noted that the properties were not for sale and would be "acquired" off the market.

News. 22nd April 2015. Caroline Chisholm centre was one of several buildings in lockdown at Tuggeranong. The Canberra Times Photo Jamila Toderas Photo: Jamila Toderas

The total commercial value of the seven properties presented within the investment proposal was upwards of $1 billion.

Despite travelling to Malaysia to meet government officials to discuss the deal, Mr Manikis said it eventually fizzled out.

The Department of Defence's Campbell Park office block was also part of the failed deal.  Photo: Canberra Times

"What we wanted to do was to put together a $1 billion list of properties, and to leverage the funds to go through and purchase the properties," he said.

"There were multiple attempts at finding different ways of doing this, and in the end it just fizzled out to nothing.

"In 2014 and 2015 we were furiously considering options, as were the [Employees Provident Fund]."

With the proposal falling through, Mr Manikis thought that was the end of the saga until a bizarre legal letter arrived at the end of 2015.

"I get this letter from a firm of solicitors, representing this bloke who wanted $20 million as a commission for setting the whole thing up.

"I ignored that letter. In 2017 a different law firm wrote to me. And then just a few weeks ago I got another letter threatening legal action.

"My solicitors wrote back to say we've never heard of this bloke. I'm still dealing with it now."

The name of the man seeking the commission was the same as a prominent Malaysian political operative, Mr Manikis said, although he suspected some correspondence had been forged.

Terry Daly, the ACT managing director of property development company Knight Frank, was approached by Mr Manikis around the time of the Malaysian proposal in 2014.

Mr Daly said Knight Frank received a run of the mill request to look into some potential property development opportunities for Mr Manikis.

"We gave Nic some broad information on property around the country, that was our role," Mr Daly said.

"It was similar to any other buyer that might ring us up. It was all very preliminary, looking at what might be potentially available in the market.

"We provided that information, and from that day, it never grew any legs."

The Employees Provident Fund released a cryptic statement regarding the proposal in response to reports that had recently surfaced in Malaysian media.

"The involvement of Ladylaw Securities and Nic Manikis was made known to the EPF on January 20, 2017 and a police report was made on January 23, 2017 stating that the EPF has no knowledge nor was involved in any investment transaction with Ladylaw Securities nor Nic Manikis," read part of their statement.

Mr Manikis has offered a different version of events.

"I did go and meet their general manager. He will tell you that I arrived at Ramadan with my Canadian director."

In November 2016 Mr Manikis retired after 40 years in the public service.

His last job was as the director of the Community Participation Group in the Community Services Directorate.

The wildly successful National Multicultural Festival, which he inaugurated in 1997, is his most high profile achievement, having grown into a huge event that now attracts upwards of 200,000 revellers each year.