Upper Hunter horse stud director's $10 million fraud appeal rejected

HE was once the trusted lieutenant of United Arab Emirates billionaire His Excellency Nasser Lootah and co-director of his boss’s high-profile Murrurundi horse-breeding farm.

For years Rajesh Chimanlal Upadhyaya enjoyed a lavish lifestyle while working for the Dubai-based owner of Emirates Park Stud.

But the relationship soured in 2011 when Upadhyaya was arrested by Australian police and found guilty of systematically defrauding the Upper Hunter stud of $10.7 million by invoicing Emirates Park for thousands of tonnes of oats and hay which he never provided.

Last week, Upadhyaya had his appeal against a 12-year jail sentence, with a non-parole period of seven years and nine months, dismissed by a three-judge bench in the Court of Criminal Appeal.

He also unsuccessfully appealed against $750,000 compensation he was ordered to pay Emirates Park – the maximum the court could require.

His lawyer’s argued that the sentence, handed down in the District Court in August 2015, was “manifestly excessive”, partly because the impact on Emirates Park was only a “temporary setback”, mitigated by Mr Lootah’s financial position.

They were also unable to convince the judges to overturn the compensation order despite the fact that Upadhyaya’s Australian assets were frozen and sold by the bank.  

The Sydney District Court heard in 2015 that Emirates Park losses tallied more than $100 million during the time of the offences and the stud essentially “operates as His Excellency’s hobby”.

WORLD CLASS: District Court Judge Donna Woodburne said the impact on Emirates Park was significant.

WORLD CLASS: District Court Judge Donna Woodburne said the impact on Emirates Park was significant.

As co-director, Upadhyaya was given financial responsibility for the property and ordered hay and oats to feed the foals and yearlings between 2005 and 2010.

He was responsible for authorising invoices and signing cheques for payment.

However, at the same time, Upadhyaya had a controlling interest in two horse-feed companies – Tamworth Quality Grains and Feedpoint – which supplied Emirates Park.

He charged the stud for tens of thousands of tonnes of oats and hay which the feed companies were supposed to provide.

But the amount of feed ordered was up to ten times more than what the horses on the stud could ever possibly eat – and at times more than 90 per cent more than what was supplied.

Upadhyaya then filtered the money back into his own pockets through various bank accounts, a credit card and other companies.

In 2006, Tamworth Quality Grain issued 26 fraudulent invoices to Emirates Park for more than 34,000 bails of hay valued at $783,705.

Upadhyaya paid the invoices by writing 19 cheques. 

The next year, Tamworth Quality Grain invoiced Emirates for 4600 tonnes of oats. 

This was despite the fact that the horses only ate 300 tonnes of oats a year.

The annual invoiced sums ranged between $54,824, in 2005, to $1,816,223, in 2007. The first invoice overstated the feed supply by 28 per cent, the second by 33 per cent.

In the end, Upadhyaya was overcharging by up to 90 per cent.

On one occasion, he ordered feed from a third-party supplier and Emirates Park paid for it, but the bulk of fodder was delivered to his own property, to feed his own horses.

The District Court heard that Upadhyaya described to a psychologist the “flamboyant lifestyle” of lavish luxury he enjoyed working for Mr Lootah in Dubai.

But claimed when he moved to Australia to run the Murrurundi horse stud, he initially received a $5000 stipend every six months and then an annual salary of $25,000. 

Billionaire: Wealthy Dubai businessman His Excellency Nasser Lootah owns the Murrurundi horse stud.

Billionaire: Wealthy Dubai businessman His Excellency Nasser Lootah owns the Murrurundi horse stud.

Upadhyaya initially pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of defrauding Emirates Park. 

Following a lengthy trial, he was convicted of 14 counts of defrauding a body corporate while serving as a director. He had no previous criminal record.

Emirates Park, previously known as Blandford Park Stud, is situated on the New England Highway.

Mr Lootah established his Australian thoroughbred operation in the 1980s, which also includes a property in Victoria.

In recent years, his son, Hussain, has been heavily involved in running the business and announced a joint venture with Aquis Farm, backed by Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung, in April.

Under the deal, Aquis will manage Emirates Park Murrurundi stud and stallions Artie Schiller, Dream Ahead and Al Maher. Emirates will retain ownership of the farm and its broodmares.

The decision comes after Emirates Park decided to focus more intensively on growing its broodmare and racing interests.