EXCLUSIVE: New details that have emerged from the continuing coronial inquiry into the fate of missing fraudster Melissa Caddick have only intensified the mystery of what really happened to her after she disappeared. Therese Taylor reports.
At the recent BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival, my morning began with a panel: ‘Middle Eastern Crime in Western Sydney: Myths and Realities.’ Sarah Ayoub, Michael Mohammed Ahmad and Amani Haydar talked about the images of communities in Western Sydney, and the realities behind the ‘Middle-Eastern crime’ label.
One speaker after another described exaggerations and fabrications, and a determination by the media to play up stereotypes. As Sarah Ayoub pointed out, this went beyond tabloids to the more prestigious mastheads. All this went alongside real crimes, both reported and unreported, and attitudes of anger, distancing and resignation on the streets of Western Sydney.
It was a sharp contrast to go from this session to ‘Queen of the Con’: a festival forum about Melissa Caddick, the disappeared fraudster.
White Collar Crime
Caddick had infamously posed as an investment adviser, and persuaded family, friends, and then people known to her circle, to hand over their savings. She would then issue fake investment portfolios, and show remarkable returns. She stole at least $20 million. As part of her facade, Caddick had purloined someone else’s financial services licence, and in November 2020, the authorities finally acted on complaints from this individual, and raided Caddick’s home. She disappeared early the next morning.
At the BAD Sydney Festival’s ‘Queen of the Con’ session, journalists Kate McClymont and Tom Steinfort, who have created a celebrated podcast about the story of Melissa Caddick, discussed this dramatic, unfinished tale with the public.
The contrast with the previous session was striking. Instead of the Western Suburbs and disadvantage, one had ocean views at Caddick’s Dover Heights home – the ultimate in Eastern Suburbs status. This sense of contrast has reverberated, in my mind, with every unfolding of the Melissa Caddick saga.
Kate McClymont and Tom Steinfort have done excellent work on their podcast, Liar, Liar, Melissa Caddick and the Missing Millions. However I found the session at the BAD Festival did not rise above the superficial. In fact, their approach – with numerous jokes about Anthony Koletti and prawn farms – would have better suited a session on ‘Cozy Crime.’
At the BAD Festival, and elsewhere, Melissa Caddick was described as operating a “Ponzi scheme”, and as “exploiting” family and friends. She is often described with reference to her designer clothes and valuable jewellery, and is measured against our ideas of class – not our ideas of criminality. That nasty word thief is not mentioned. White collar crime is always different.
Anthony Koletti, Melissa Caddick’s husband, has been in the media constantly, since he announced that his wife was missing. The media always reports that he is a hairdresser, and that he was younger than Melissa Caddick. They harp on this so much, that one would suppose it to be an offence in law. What they mean, of course, is that it is an offence against good taste. He was a “toyboy”.
Koletti’s version of events is that he knew nothing about his wife’s financial crimes, and that since her disappearance he has been treated unfairly and reduced to penury. Very few people believe him. He is suspected of knowing she was a fraudster, and of deliberately concealing her disappearance by not reporting it for the first 30 hours. Koletti has retaliated by releasing recordings of rap songs, written by himself, traducing the investigators.
Husband Anthony Koletti (Image: LinkedIn / Supplied)
It is interesting that Anthony Koletti is portrayed as wacky and comical, rather than menacing. For instance, at the BAD Sydney Festival, a short excerpt of one of his songs was played, by Tom Steinfort, the journalist who Koletti was criticising in the lyrics. Steinfort played it for laughs – but it would be appropriate to give emphasis to the fact that an ASIC investigator, Isabella Allen, took out an apprehended violence order against Koletti, after being threatened in his broadcasts.
If Koletti had been a Middle Eastern male from Western Sydney, his rap performances would be seen as a link to gangster culture. He also is a man whose wife has disappeared, after stressful scenes in the home … But his media image remains goofy – he is ideal for ridicule.
I disagreed with the panellists’ statements that Anthony Koletti should have been suspicious of Melissa Caddick’s apparent wealth and lavish spending. ‘Where was it all coming from?’ Her story of being a successful portfolio manager would have been sufficient explanation. People who have unaccountably high incomes are a regular sight in Sydney. That’s Sydney – our town.
The people who should have been suspicious were the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Their failure to follow up an early complaint about Caddick, and the slow pace of their investigation, should be front and centre of any discussion of these crimes.
I muttered this to my editor Serkan Ozturk, who attended the session with me. He immediately pointed out that at the very same time as the Caddick case, the chairman of ASIC, James Shipton, was the subject of scandal.
The Sins of ASIC
In late October 2020, ASIC deputy chair Karen Chester was at a parliamentary committee hearing and admitted that ASIC hadn’t dealt with an enquiry quickly enough. “It is a failing and we acknowledge it,” she said.
But she was not talking about the Melissa Caddick investigation. She meant the irregular activities of James Shipton – the ASIC Chairman himself – and also his deputy, Daniel Crennan, who were found to have somehow charged excessive benefits, well above their remuneration limits, for private expenses such as moving house. After an investigation by the Australian National Audit Office, they agreed to pay the funds back.
It turned out that ASIC had known of these irregular payments for over a year, and did absolutely nothing, until forced to by an outside authority. No wonder their investigation of Melissa Caddick was slow and ineffective. Caddick would disappear on November 12, 2020, just over a fortnight after Ms Chester’s appearance at the parliamentary committee hearing.
ASIC’s investigation into Caddick had only got underway in September 2020, almost a year after it received its first report in November 2019 that the investment adviser may have been a con artist.
Missing and still not found: Melissa Caddick (Image: Supplied)
Inquest Puts Police Failures Under Spotlight
Since that day at the BAD Sydney Festival, an inquest has opened into the disappearance of Melissa Caddick before Deputy State Coroner Elizabeth Ryan.
The evidence heard, so far, only deepens the enigma.
Anthony Koletti has often, quite rightly, been criticised for not reporting Melissa missing until 30 hours after the fact – when he could not conceal it any longer, as she was due in Court.
But, it turns out, it was not until a week after this report of the disappearance that the police searched the Caddick home – for a total of only 14 minutes. The police investigation was slow and hesitant. Anthony Koletti also gave conflicting statements about when he last saw his wife, and was considered by police to have a shifty demeanour. None of this, it seems, made the case urgent. It was 19 days after the disappearance that the Caddick residence and car was given a forensic search, which showed no signs of blood or damage from a struggle. Of course, one would wish that such searches had happened earlier.
The discovery of Melissa Caddick’s foot on a south coast beach, three months after her disappearance, made it more likely, but not certain, that she was dead. The evidence to the inquest has shown that the shoe had been in sea water for only about a week before it was found. So where had it been in the interim?
Another bit of vital information was also gleaned at the inquest, when it was revealed that there was a possibility that an Uber account associated with Caddick had pinged or been in use near Sydney Airport on the day of her disappearance.
The inquest took a pause for a week and recommenced this week on Monday, September 26 where it was heard Caddick had filed her nails and then had an afternoon nap on the day ASIC investigators were raiding her home.
Considerations on a Missing Con
Our TCNW editor, Serkan Ozturk, told me that he believed that Melissa Caddick operated under a ‘cloak of whiteness’ and that her privileged position in Australian society meant that no one could see her for what she was – a criminal. She continues to be depicted in individualistic terms, and not as someone whose offending informs you of the real nature of their environment and their peers. This stands in such contrast to those who are marginalised in our society, and considered to be potential criminals even if they have done nothing wrong.
The distance from Western Sydney to the Eastern Suburbs is measured in more than kilometres.
On social media, people have commented sourly that the Caddick Dover Heights house was treated with great respect and emerged unscathed from various police searches. No kicking down doors and visits from dog squads in Dover Heights.
My own take on this case, is that Melissa Caddick was practising affinity fraud. People trusted her because she was ‘like them.’ Fraudsters often find opportunities within their own ethnic group or religious community.
This affinity fraud has also permeated the investigation and the media coverage. A middle class woman who can command the luxuries of life is entitled to respect, so her crimes are seen as paradoxical – and all the more interesting for that reason.
But her greed, unscrupulousness, and gaudy lifestyle are quite typical of a whole strata of Sydney society, where the law is often flouted, and often not enforced.