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'Who did I give my money to?': Astra victim's fight for justice

Business

Sharon Maslen vividly remembers the moment she became a shareholder – or tried to. Now she can’t wait to forget.

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“I would encourage other people who have been caught to get together and get our money back because if we take no action other people could become victims too,” Maslen says.

The journey from excited to devastated investor began in February 2013 when Maslen’s long-time friends mentioned a new company starting up that seemed a good investment.

She said her experienced friends were encouraging – they said “go for it”.

Her husband was supportive – they were in a good financial position.

The company, Adelaide-based Astra Resources, looked outstanding on paper and nothing alarming was appearing on Maslen’s online searches.

“I heard about Astra Resources through some friends who I trust,” she said.

“When I looked into buying these shares I went onto Google and I couldn’t see anything there so we went ahead.

“You don’t want to feel paranoid, but you don’t want to feel like you’re going in with your eyes shut.”

She did not seek the services of an independent financial advisor.

For Maslen, the chance to invest early before Astra floated on the Australian Stock Exchange sounded promising.

She was called and courted by Astra who, she said, told her a $1 share was expected to rise to $4.

“It wasn’t unusual for them to ring either, building up trust.

“So in three months I was going to get more than three times what I had invested.”

Similar scenes of early investment play out all around the country as businesses spruik their wares to potential investors as they prepare to go public.

Except Astra featured one considerable difference – it failed to provide a mandatory prospectus and financial details to Maslen and hundreds of other Australians.

Astra Mining's Adelaide office.

Astra Mining’s Adelaide office.

A first-time investor, Maslen wired $25,000 to purchase Astra shares for $1 each without seeing paperwork or signing a contract.

Her agreement to buy $25,000 of Astra Resources shares when it launched on the ASX, which it has not to date, had all been managed verbally, on the phone and by email.

But Astra wasn’t finished and it came back for more.

This time, after Maslen rejected call after call encouraging her to invest in more shares, they produced a new request.

In June 2013, months after Maslen invested in promised shares, she said Astra contacted her to ask if she would finance a short-term loan of $25,000 “to pay bills”.

She was told she would be repaid with $50,000 in two or three days.

“I thought $25,000 was more than enough [to invest] and that was all I was prepared to put in.”

Unknown to Maslen, her husband Kym was also corresponding with the group from their Adelaide Hills home about the loan while she was in Melbourne on business.

The second $25,000 was withdrawn from their home loan and given to Astra.

“They said it was a bill that needed to be paid but it couldn’t look like Astra was paying it,” she said.

“I realised it was an Astra account as soon as we’d done it.

“All I’ve got is an account number and who knows who owns the account to get my money back.

“Who exactly have I loaned my money to?”

Maslen has been asking questions about her investments for two years and pursuing Astra Resources for the past 12 months to recover her $50,000.

“I was told ‘you’ll get paid next, we’ve got the money, we’ve got money coming in – in full’.

“So now we’ve got a year’s full of emails saying we’ll get your money back – obviously the payment didn’t come.”

When the loan and interest again did not appear, Maslen went searching for further information about her new investment.

“It wasn’t until I saw something on the ASIC website that I should have had all the information for buying shares.

“There was all this information we should have had.

“Our faith was completely misplaced.

“Now I’ve got an increased mortgage and increased interest and things are just so tight.

“I’ve been to three separate solicitors. Two have wiped their hands and said it’s too hard and the other says ‘it’s going to cost you more than you lost to pursue this’.

“I feel like we’ve really really been taken.

“It’s a huge amount of money to me. They [friends] just said it’s part of it all [investing].

“If I’d had gone and spent $25,000 on the pokies then that’s fair enough but this is wrong.”

Astra-webpage

Astra Resources default website page.

The mental and financial scars left by Adelaide-based Astra Resources still run deep in South Australia.

This year, ASIC pursued Astra Resources and its subsidiary, Astra Consolidated Nominees, for breaching the fundraising provisions of the Corporations Act.

ASIC took action against Astra for illegally raising $6.5 million from 281 Australian investors, many in South Australia, between September 2011 and September 2012. Maslen’s 2013 and ’14 transactions fell outside this action.

In September the Federal Court found that Astra Resources breached the fundraising provisions of the Corporations Act.

ASIC is also seeking orders that the three directors are disqualified from managing corporations.

An application for an adjournment of the trial by directors Jaydeep Biswas and Silvana De Cianni was refused and the hearing resumed on Monday, November 30.

“I would encourage other people who have been caught to get together and get our money back because if we take no action other people could become victims too.”

Astra Resources has been contacted by InDaily for comment.

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