Embattled property developer Luke Saraceni has launched his long-awaited $200 million-plus damages claim against Bankwest over the collapse last year of his property empire.
The writ, lodged in the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon, alleges that Bankwest plotted to take control of Mr Saraceni's landmark $500 million Raine Square tower in breach of its obligations under his financing agreement.
The legal move threatens to inflame an already incendiary battle between the fallen property tycoon and WA's biggest financial institution, with a heated creditors meeting due to be held in Perth today to appoint a liquidator to Mr Saraceni's Westgem Investments.
That investment vehicle, which Mr Saraceni controlled with fellow developer Hossean Pourzand, oversaw the Raine Square development which now houses Bankwest's headquarters.
The bank claimed cost overruns and missed payments to appoint KordaMentha partners as receivers in January last year in a bid to recover debts exceeding $400 million. But this is rejected in the writ.
It claims that after the Commonwealth Bank swooped on stricken HBOS-owned Bankwest in the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, CBA and Bankwest began improperly manoeuvring to improve the return on the Raine Square investment.
"Bankwest itself or at the bidding of CBA determined to obtain better security for and a greater return from monies it had advanced and would advance under the (financing agreement) and to increase its control over or take effective control over construction of (Raine Square), and thereafter took steps to achieve those objectives," the writ said.
Two cost-overrun events totalling $30 million are at the heart of the dispute, and the writ says that Bankwest failed to use a predetermined contractual test to verify whether in fact there was an overrun.
Bankwest is also accused of unreasonably delaying the development of Raine Square once receivers were appointed and before that undermining Mr Saraceni's relationship with the original builder of the 20-storey tower, Salta Constructions.
"Bankwest acted in such a way generally as to destabilise Westgem's relationship with Salta," the writ says.
It continues the colourful history of the project.
Salta Construction abruptly shut the gates in 2010 over a financial dispute with Westgem, putting 200 people out of work. The closure came months after the firebombing of a car owned by a manager in charge of the project.
Bankwest declined to comment.
Separately, Westgem administrator Bryan Hughes of Pitcher Partners will hold a creditors meeting today.He has claimed KordaMentha has assigned itself a number of Westgem debts and could use the voting power to appoint an alternative liquidator.
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