Archives for : PEOPLE

NZ Man in court over alleged $1.2m scammed from pensioners


A 48-YEAR-OLD Kiwi has been extradited back from New Zealand to face 21 boiler room fraud charges that police claim stripped retirees of their superannuation and others to the tune of $1.2 million.

The man, who is due to appear in Maroochydore Magistrates Court this afternoon, was the alleged ringleader of the Gold Coast-based scam, police claim.

Victims were lured into the scam with cold calls or by visiting websites set up by the group, Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards alleged.

They were drip fed a small amount of cash to get them to pour more in.

He said the “callous” alleged fraudster had blown most of the $1.2 million on a luxury Gold Coast lifestyle and police did not yet have any assets to strip from the man.

“It was to do with safe racing and betting,” Sen Sgt Edwards said.

“Some of the allegations are that some of the complainants received some of the funding back so they appeared they were getting returns however that was just a phoenix set up. Once an investor put money in they would drip feed some of the other investors money to give the false impression they were getting money,” he alleged.

Snr Sgt Edwards alleged one West Australian victim invested $300,000 into the scam while another Sunshine Coast man in his 70s put in more than $70,000.

A second man has been charged on the Gold Coast.


Henry Sapiecha

Million-dollar visa scam leaves migrants $50,000 out of pocket, boss drives Porsche

A million-dollar jobs and visa scam that promised to help find work for hopeful migrants in regional areas has left dozens up to $50,000 out of pocket while the plan’s architect lives in a $3 million mansion and drives a brand-new Porsche.


Lubo Jack Raskovic exits his car. Pic Nick Moir 10 nov 2017

Lubo Jack Raskovic exits his car. Pic Nick Moir 10 nov 2017


A recruitment agency run by former banned company director Lubo Jack Raskovic out of an office block in Sydney’s north west, promised to help find migrants sponsored jobs and a pathway to visas in exchange for asking fees as high as $70,000.

“He said he can find the right guy in my field – if I want [visa] sponsorship, he can help,” said Melbourne-based mechanic and former client, Harmandeep Brar.

A joint SBS-Fairfax Media investigation can also reveal Mr Raskovic, 59, and his company, Global Skills and Business Services Pty Ltd, offered to pay cash to employers in regional areas, in return for jobs and visas.

“He works for a different company, All Borders Pty Limited – set up just weeks before Global Skills went broke.”

Employer Chris Olm, from Chris’s Welding & Steel in Chinchilla in Queensland’s Western Downs Region, said he was offered $10,000 if he took on a worker and sponsored them for a visa. After pestering Mr Raskovic for his payment, he was told he would be paid in cash.

“He said, ‘do you want money in cash’ (and) I said, ‘just put it in my bank account. Who f–kin’ deals in cash, how dodgy is this,” Mr Olm said.

Former clients said they discovered the business through word of mouth or Facebook posts. Most spent months trying to source a job though Mr Raskovic but eventually ended up seeking a refund which was never granted in full, and in many cases not at all. Some left Australia ruined.

Last month Mr Raskovic placed Global Skills, of which he is sole director and shareholder, into liquidation with debts of around $2.5 million, leaving 45 creditors, mostly Indian migrants, out of pocket.

According to corporate records the company had “nil” assets when it was wound up. But just 10 months earlier Mr Raskovic bought a $3 million mansion in Bella Vista – described by real estate agents as “one of the Hills district’s finest homes” – and purchased a new $100,000 black Porsche Cayenne station wagon, under a separate business entity.

He works for a different company, All Borders Pty Limited – set up just weeks before Global Skills went broke – and operates from the same office under a similar business model. It’s owned by his partner, Neo Tau, who shares his Bella Vista mansion.

Forced to return to India

Suneel Kumar Kocherla, 41, said he lost around $30,000 to Global Skills, which promised to help him find a regional job.

He was desperate to find a way to remain in the country two years ago and searched for recruitment companies. He accepted a contract with Global Skills and agreed to pay $40,000.

In return, Global Skills agreed to provide “recruitment services” that included “gathering CVs and requesting references”, “facilitating interviews and placement opportunities” and “supporting the offer and acceptance process”. A job is not guaranteed, however clients are entitled to a refund of their fees paid less reasonable expenses if employment lasts for less than 12 months.

In April 2015, he received a written job offer from the chief executive of a landscaping company on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

A “letter of engagement” sighted by SBS and Fairfax Media purports to show the landscaping business offering him a job. The company’s boss said he had never heard of Mr Raskovic or his company Global Skills. “Never have I entered into an agreement with anyone to do with that stuff,” the firm’s boss said.

Asked to respond to the allegations, Mr Raskovic said he had advice not to talk. He did not respond to written questions.

After several other jobs failed to eventuate, Mr Kocherla, who has two young children, was forced to leave Australia and return to India.

Clients, employers in the same boat

Clients aren’t the only ones angry at Mr Raskovic. Employers claim they were offered cash payments in exchange for either taking on a migrant worker or sponsoring a visa outcome, but never received them.

Under new laws introduced in December 2015, it is illegal to offer or provide money in exchange for a sponsored work-visa arrangement. Maximum penalties for individuals are up to $50,400 per offence which rises to $252,000 for bodies corporate.

Mr Raskovic declined to answer questions on the payment of fees, however internal documents seen by SBS and Fairfax Media refer on one occasion to a “training fee” of $10,000 offered to employers.

Mr Olm said the $10,000 he was promised would only be handed over after the visa had been granted.

“Once they get approved, we are supposed to get 10 grand,” he said.

When he met the worker he said he didn’t have the necessary experience, but kept him on anyway.

“I was happy to keep him, I mean they siphoned 50 grand out of the kid,” he said.

After the worker received his visa, Mr Olm rang Mr Raskovic to collect his payment.

But Mr Olm said he never received the money and is now considering legal action.

Another business owner, Garry Rogers, who runs the Noosaville Meat Markets, north of Brisbane, said he was offered as much as $10,000 to take on a migrant worker.

“I was told I could get five grand, maybe 10, if he stayed on,” he said.


Ankur paid $50,000 to Global Skills and Business Services for a job that never eventuated.

He was eventually fired after two months. He claims that the job was primarily a manual labour role despite the employment contract describing it as a mechanic role.

“I told them ‘you find the wrong job for us’ … I haven’t worked with a diesel machine,” he said.

He demanded his money back from Mr Raskovic’s company but said he has received nothing.

Another claims he is owed $35,000 on the promise of a managerial position. He does not want to be identified because his parents in India still do not know he lost the money.

He ended up driving between Brisbane and Roma – a 500-kilometre journey –  going door-to-door looking for work.

“I slept in the car and I went town to town,” he said.

‘A more legal way of doing his business’

Schon Condon was appointed as the liquidator of Global Skills and met with Mr Raskovic last month.

“He said he had lost a legal action and was looking at reinventing a better way – and presumably a more legal way – of doing his business,” Mr Condon said.

At the meeting Mr Raskovic indicated the company had no assets. But the joint SBS-Fairfax Media investigation has uncovered text messages and emails from January 2017 from Raskovic’s company asking clients to pay money into a Westpac account.


Ankur has never received a refund. His calls to Jack Raskovic go unanswered.

According to invoices obtained by SBS and Fairfax Media, in the six months before Global Skills was put into liquidation, two companies linked to Mr Raskovic sought payment for almost $1 million for services including rent, management fees and consultants fees for Mr Raskovic himself.

While the company was still solvent, clients were told to deposit their money into an account linked to a separate entity owned by Mr Raskovic, which holds the title for his $3 million Bella Vista Waters home, and a number of cars including a Black Porsche station wagon purchased earlier this year.

Already disqualified

Mr Raskovic has previously been disqualified from managing companies for four years from 2008 after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission found he allowed three companies to trade while insolvent.

Global Skills and Business Services Pty Ltd also continues to be identified as operating another recruitment website – – which promises to connect job seekers with employers who “in many cases… are able to provide Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and 457 [visa] sponsorships.”

According to contracts seen by SBS and Fairfax Media, a company linked to Mr Raskovic would offer job-spotters a $2000 payment for finding work for migrants that would lead to a visa application. Instalments would be paid upon job placement with the remainder “upon completion, lodgement and approval of all requisite employer sponsorship documentation”.

Jee Eun Han, executive manager at Australian Immigration Law Services, said it was not uncommon for migrants seeking visas to be exploited or lose their money through such schemes.

“The most common story from them is, ‘I paid huge money to the job broker or recruitment agent for employer to sponsor them for visa, even though the job never existed and they paid more than $50,000 sometimes,” she said.

“Just put yourself in their shoes – you are overseas, living there for a few years, you may have kids as well, and you’re trying to find a job and secure your visa and now you’re being targeted by the scammer.”


Henry Sapiecha



Dr Con Man the rise and fall of a celebrity scientist who fooled almost everyone.Macchiarini

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was hailed for turning the dream of regenerative medicine into a reality – until he was exposed as a con artist and false prophet


Scientific pioneer, superstar surgeon, miracle worker – that’s how Paolo Macchiarini was known for several years. Dressed in a white lab coat or in surgical scrubs, with his broad, handsome face and easy charm, he certainly looked the part. And fooled almost everyone.

Macchiarini shot to prominence back in 2008, when he created a new airway for Claudia Castillo, a young woman from Barcelona. He did this by chemically stripping away the cells of a windpipe taken from a deceased donor; he then seeded the bare scaffold with stem cells taken from Castillo’s own bone marrow. Castillo was soon back home, chasing after her kids. According to Macchiarini and his colleagues, her artificial organ was well on the way to looking and functioning liked a natural one. And because it was built from Castillo’s own cells, she didn’t need to be on any risky immunosuppressant drugs.

This was Macchiarini’s first big success. Countless news stories declared it a medical breakthrough. A life-saver and a game-changer. We now know that wasn’t true. However, the serious complications that Castillo suffered were, for a long time, kept very quiet.

Meanwhile, Macchiarini’s career soared. By 2011, he was working in Sweden at one of the world’s most prestigious medical universities, the Karolinska Institute, whose professors annually select the winner of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine. There he reinvented his technique. Instead of stripping the cells from donor windpipes, Macchiarini had plastic scaffolds made to order. The first person to receive one of these was Andemariam Beyene, an Eritrean doctoral student in geology at the University of Iceland. His recovery put Macchiarini on the front page of the New York Times.

Macchiarini was turning the dream of regenerative medicine into a reality. This is how NBC’s Meredith Vieira put it in her documentary about Macchiarini, appropriately called A Leap of Faith: “Just imagine a world where any injured or diseased organ or body part you have is simply replaced by a new artificial one, literally manmade in the lab, just for you.” This marvelous world was now within reach, thanks to Macchiarini.

Last year, however, the dream soured, exposing an ugly reality.

Macchiarini gave his “regenerating” windpipes to 17 or more patients worldwide. Most, including Andemariam Beyene, are now dead. Those few patients who are still alive – including Castillo – have survived in spite of the artificial windpipes they received.

In January 2016, Macchiarini received an extraordinary double dose of bad press. The first was a Vanity Fair article about his affair with Benita Alexander, an award-winning producer for NBC News. She met Macchiarini while producing A Leap of Faith and was soon breaking one of the cardinal rules of journalism: don’t fall in love with the subject of your story.

By the time the program aired, in mid-2014, the couple were planning their marriage. It would be a star-studded event. Macchiarini had often boasted to Alexander of his famous friends. Now they were on the wedding guest list: the Obamas, the Clintons, Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy and other world leaders. Andrea Bocelli was to sing at the ceremony. None other than Pope Francis would officiate, and his papal palace in Castel Gandolfo would serve as the venue. That’s what Macchiarini told his fiancee.


Macchiarini at work. Photograph: TT News Agency/Press Association Images

But as the big day approached, Alexander saw these plans unravel, and finally realised that her lover had lied about almost everything. The pope, the palace, the world leaders, the famous tenor – they were all fantasies.

Likewise the whole idea of a wedding: Macchiarini was still married to his wife of 30 years.

Macchiarini’s deceit was so outlandish, Vanity Fair sought the opinion of the Harvard professor Ronald Schouten, an expert on psychopaths, who gave this diagnosis-at-a-distance: “Macchiarini is the extreme form of a con man. He’s clearly bright and has accomplishments, but he can’t contain himself. There’s a void in his personality that he seems to want to fill by conning more and more people.”

Which left a big, burning question in the air: if Macchiarini was a pathological liar in matters of love, what about his medical research? Was he conning his patients, his colleagues and the scientific community?

The answer came only a couple of weeks later, when Swedish television began broadcasting a three-part exposé of Macchiarini and his work.


Called Experimenten (The Experiments), it argued convincingly that Macchiarini’s artificial windpipes were not the life-saving wonders we’d all been led to believe. On the contrary, they seemed to do more harm than good – something that Macchiarini had for years concealed or downplayed in his scientific articles, press releases and interviews.

Faced with this public relations disaster, the Karolinska Institute immediately promised to investigate the allegations but then, within days, suddenly announced that Macchiarini’s contract would not be extended.

Macchiarini’s fall was swift, but troubling questions remain about why he was allowed to continue his experiments for so long. Some answers have emerged from the official inquiries into the Karolinska Institute and the Karolinska University hospital. They identified many problems with the way the twin organisations handled him.

Macchiarini’s fame had won him well-placed backers. These included Harriet Wallberg, who was the vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institute in 2010, when Macchiarini was recruited. She pushed through his appointment despite the fact that he had some very negative references and dubious claims on his résumé.

This set a dangerous example. It showed department heads and colleagues that they should give Macchiarini special treatment.

He could do pretty much as he pleased. In the first couple of years at Karolinska, he put plastic airways into three patients. Since this was radically new, Macchiarini and his colleagues should have tested it on animals first. They didn’t.

Likewise, they didn’t undertake a proper risk assessment of the procedure, nor did Macchiarini’s team seek government permits for the plastic windpipes, stem cells, and chemical “growth factors” they used. They didn’t even seek the approval of Stockholm’s ethical review board, which is based at Karolinska.

Though Macchiarini was in the public eye, he was able to sidestep the usual rules and regulations. Or rather, his celebrity status helped him do so. Karolinska’s leadership expected big things from their superstar, things that would bring prestige and funding to the institute.

They also cited a loophole known as “compassionate use”. Macchiarini, they claimed, wasn’t really doing clinical research. No, he was just caring for his patients who were, one and all, facing certain death with no other treatment options available and no time to waste. In such dire circumstances, new treatments can be tried as a last resort.

This argument didn’t wash with those who later investigated the case. In their view, Macchiarini was certainly engaged in clinical research. Besides which, compassionate concerns don’t override the basic principles of patient safety and informed consent. Macchiarini, meanwhile, said he “did not accept” the findings of the disciplinary board.

As it turned out, Macchiarini’s patients weren’t all at death’s door at the time he treated them. Andemariam Beyene, for instance, had recurrent cancer of the windpipe but, aside from a cough, was still in good health. But even if his days had been numbered, this didn’t necessarily justify what Macchiarini put him through.

Beyene’s death two and a half years after the operation, caused by the failure of his artificial airway, was a grueling ordeal. According to Pierre Delaere, a professor of respiratory surgery at KU Leuven, Belgium, Macchiarini’s experiments were bound to end badly. As he said in Experimenten: “If I had the option of a synthetic trachea or a firing squad, I’d choose the last option because it would be the least painful form of execution.”


Claudia Castillo with Dr Paolo Macchiarini.

Delaere was one of the earliest and harshest critics of Macchiarini’s engineered airways. Reports of their success always seemed like “hot air” to him. He could see no real evidence that the windpipe scaffolds were becoming living, functioning airways – in which case, they were destined to fail. The only question was how long it would take – weeks, months or a few years.

Delaere’s damning criticisms appeared in major medical journals, including the Lancet, but weren’t taken seriously by Karolinska’s leadership. Nor did they impress the institute’s ethics council when Delaere lodged a formal complaint.

Support for Macchiarini remained strong, even as his patients began to die. In part, this is because the field of windpipe repair is a niche area. Few people at Karolinska, especially among those in power, knew enough about it to appreciate Delaere’s claims. Also, in such a highly competitive environment, people are keen to show allegiance to their superiors and wary of criticising them. The official report into the matter dubbed this the “bandwagon effect”.

With Macchiarini’s exploits endorsed by management and breathlessly reported in the media, it was all too easy to jump on that bandwagon.


And difficult to jump off. In early 2014, four Karolinska doctors defied the reigning culture of silence by complaining about Macchiarini. In their view, he was grossly misrepresenting his results and the health of his patients. An independent investigator agreed. But the vice-chancellor of Karolinska Institute, Anders Hamsten, wasn’t bound by this judgement. He officially cleared Macchiarini of scientific misconduct, allowing merely that he’d sometimes acted “without due care”.

For their efforts, the whistleblowers were punished. When Macchiarini accused one of them, Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, of stealing his work in a grant application, Hamsten found him guilty. As Grinnemo recalls, it nearly destroyed his career: “I didn’t receive any new grants. No one wanted to collaborate with me. We were doing good research, but it didn’t matter … I thought I was going to lose my lab, my staff – everything.”

This went on for three years until, just recently, Grinnemo was cleared of all wrongdoing.

The Macchiarini scandal claimed many of his powerful friends. The vice-chancellor, Anders Hamsten, resigned. So did Karolinska’s dean of research. Likewise the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee. The university board was dismissed and even Harriet Wallberg, who’d moved on to become the chancellor for all Swedish universities, lost her job.

Unfortunately, the scandal is much bigger than Karolinska, which accounts for only three of the patients who have received Macchiarini’s “regenerating” windpipes.

The other patients were treated at hospitals in Barcelona, Florence, London, Moscow, Krasnodar, Chicago and Peoria. None of these institutions have faced the same kind of public scrutiny. None have been forced to hold full and independent inquiries. They should be.


Paolo Macchiarini at a press conference in 2008.

If the sins of Karolinska have been committed elsewhere, it is partly because medical research facilities share a common milieu, which harbours common dangers. One of these is the hype surrounding stem cells.

Stem cell research is a hot field of science and, according to statistics, also a rather scandal-prone one. Articles in this area are retracted 2.4 times more often than the average for biomedicine, and over half of these retractions are due to fraud.

Does the “heat” of stem cell research – the high levels of funding, prestige and media coverage it enjoys – somehow encourage fraud? That’s what our experience of medical research leads us to suspect. While there isn’t enough data to actually prove this, we do have some key indicators.

We have, for example, a growing list of scientific celebrities who have committed major stem cell fraud. There is South Korea’s Hwang Woo-suk who, in 2004, falsely claimed to have created the first human embryonic stem cells by means of cloning. A few years ago, Japan’s Haruko Obokata pulled a similar con when she announced to the world a new and simple – and fake – method of turning ordinary body cells into stem cells.

Hwang, Obokata and Macchiarini were all attracted to the hottest regions of stem cell research, where hope for a medical breakthrough was greatest. In Macchiarini’s case, the hope was that patients could be treated with stem cells taken from their own bone marrow.

Over the years, this possibility has generated great excitement and a huge amount of research. Yet, for the vast majority of such treatments, there is little solid evidence that they work. (The big exception is blood stem cell transplantation, which has been saving the lives of people with leukemia and other cancers of the blood for decades.)

It’s enough to worry officials from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine admitting that stem cell research has mostly failed to live up to its therapeutic promise.

An alarmingly wide gap has grown between what we expect from stem cells and what they deliver. Each new scientific discovery brings a flood of stories about how it will revolutionise medicine one day soon. But that day is always postponed.

An unhappy result of this is the rise of pseudo-scientific therapies. Stem cell clinics have sprung up like weeds, offering to treat just about any ailment you can name. In place of clinical data, there are gushing testimonials. There are also plenty of desperate patients who believe – because they’ve been told countless times – that stem cells are the cure, and who cannot wait any longer for mainstream medicine. They and their loved ones fall victim to false hope.

Scientists can also suffer from false hope. To some extent, they believed Macchiarini because he told them what they wanted to hear. You can see this in the speed with which his “breakthroughs” were accepted. Only four months after Macchiarini operated on Claudia Castillo, his results – provisional but very positive – were published online by the Lancet. Thereafter it was all over the news.

The popular press also has a lot to answer for. Its love of human interest stories makes it sympathetic to unproven therapies. As studies have shown, the media often casts a positive light on stem cell tourism, suggesting that the treatments are effective and the risks low. It did much the same for Macchiarini’s windpipe replacements. A good example is the NBC documentary A Leap of Faith. It’s fascinating to rewatch – as a lesson on how not to report on medical science.

It is fitting that Macchiarini’s career unravelled at the Karolinska Institute. As the home of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, one of its ambitions is to create scientific celebrities. Every year, it gives science a show-business makeover, picking out from the mass of medical researchers those individuals deserving of superstardom. The idea is that scientific progress is driven by the genius of a few.

It’s a problematic idea with unfortunate side effects. A genius is a revolutionary by definition, a risk-taker and a law-breaker. Wasn’t something of this idea behind the special treatment Karolinska gave Macchiarini? Surely, he got away with so much because he was considered an exception to the rules with more than a whiff of the Nobel about him. At any rate, some of his most powerful friends were themselves Nobel judges until, with his fall from grace, they fell too.

If there is a moral to this tale, it’s that we need to be wary of medical messiahs with their promises of salvation.


Henry Sapiecha

Zhenya Tsvetnenko [A Perth millionaire] to fight text message scam & fraud charges

Australian millionaire Zhenya Tsvetnenko is planning to fight charges he defrauded unsuspecting mobile phone users for unwanted text messages as part of a multi-million-dollar scheme in the United States.

An indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan on Friday charged Mr Tsvetnenko, Fraser Thompson, an ex-executive at mobile aggregation company Mobile Messenger, as well as Fancis Assifuah, who authorities say ran digital content providers.

Perth digital entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko image

Perth digital entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko. Photo: Aaron Bunch Photographer

The indictments relate to a period from 2011 to 2013.

The trio were added to a pre-existing case against five other people and accused of participating in an “auto-subscribing” scheme to charge mobile phone customers monthly fees for unsolicited, recurring text messages without their consent.

Thompson was arrested on Friday in California. Mr Tsvetnenko lives in Perth and has not been arrested, while Assifuah had already been arrested in April. The trio face charges including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Mr Tsvetnenko co-owns Voyeur night club which opened its doors in July at the refurbished Llama Bar site in Subiaco.


Henry Sapiecha


Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar in this great video presentation

On any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times, and the clues to detect those lie can be subtle and counter-intuitive. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognize deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the “Sixth Sense” wearable tech, and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Closed captions and translated subtitles in a variety of languages are now available on, at


Henry Sapiecha

This is what happens when you reply to spam email | James Veitch on video

Published on Feb 1, 2016

Suspicious emails: unclaimed insurance bonds, diamond-encrusted safe deposit boxes, close friends marooned in a foreign country. They pop up in our inboxes, and standard procedure is to delete on sight. But what happens when you reply? Follow along as writer and comedian James Veitch narrates a hilarious, months-long exchange with a spammer who offered to cut him in on a hot deal.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.

Find closed captions and translated subtitles in many languages at


Henry Sapiecha