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Club-wary Aussies stay on sidelines
Facing charges: Paul Harrison with police. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

Indonesian investors have paid more than $700,000 for cattle that did not exist in an alleged elaborate WA scam.

Police claim some of those who lost money visited WA to inspect cattle to buy but were duped with public tours of feedlots where animals are prepared for slaughter.

They said the alleged scammer took advantage of the investors' limited English and ignorance of the Australian cattle industry during the tours, which included a Narrogin feedlot.

Major fraud squad detectives have charged Perth man Paul Gregory Harrison, 48.

They allege he approached an Indonesian cattle association in late 2008 saying he could supply cheap, high-quality cows.

Police suspect a prominent WA Aboriginal elder, who was a director of Hidalco Holdings P/L, the WA company allegedly behind the deal, was also involved.

Over a year, investors sent money to WA to import 10,000 live beef and dairy cattle a month to Indonesia.

One Indonesian businessman spent thousands of dollars upgrading his farm infrastructure to handle the livestock. Police say the alleged scam unravelled in 2010 when the first shipment failed to arrive in Indonesia. Det-Sgt Shane Giblett alleged Mr Harrison went to great lengths to justify the delay, even claiming WA politicians wanted a ceremony to mark the first shipment because the deal supported indigenous development.

Didin Hartono, a friend of the investors who convinced them to go to Australian authorities, said the financial losses hit many badly.

One father of four who borrowed to invest is in police custody in Indonesia amid allegations he stole the money, a company is now unable to trade and others lost their homes or farms.

Major fraud detectives went to Indonesia last month to speak to the investors and interviewed a former Indonesian director of Hidalco Holdings, who brokered the deal, but police could not prove he was aware of any scam.

Mr Harrison, believed to be a consultant for Hidalco, faces 35 counts of theft after police searched his Thornlie rental home on Tuesday.

Police allege none of the money sent to Hidalco was used to buy or transport cattle. Det-Sgt Giblett alleged only $50,000 was recovered and returned to the investors.