24 Dec 2008

Property scammers 'got off lightly'

6:11 am on 24 December 2008

One of the victims of an elaborate mortgage ramping scheme believes the scammers' punishment is little more than a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket.

The three real estate agents behind the scam - Philip Cavanagh, Raghu Aryasomayajula and Philip Niall - will never be allowed to sell houses again . Their licences have been cancelled.

The Real Estate Agents Licensing Board found that they had exaggerated the value of properties in order to borrow more money from banks than the houses were worth. They bought houses themselves and sold them to friends at inflated prices.

Working out of the Mt Albert branch of Barfoot & Thompson at the time, they are believed to have added almost $2 million to the value of four mortgage applications.

One of their victims, Greg Nelson, says the ban does not go far enough towards addressing the true impact on people like him.

However, Real Estate Institute president Mike Elford says the penalty sends a clear message to the industry that fraudulent activity will not be tolerated. The cancellation of a real estate salesperson's certificate is the ultimate penalty available to the licensing board.

The New Zealand Herald reports that the Real Estate Agents Act due to come into effect on 17 November next year will impose much tougher financial penalties on agents and give consumers more protection.

The Serious Fraud Office is also investigating the case. Depending on the outcome of its inquiries, victims may be able to take civil action in the future.