9 November 2023

Griffith mall's future secure despite Supreme Court battle over $22 million loans, says owner

| Oliver Jacques
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Outside shot of Griffith Central

Griffith Central is at the centre of a major Supreme Court case. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The owner of Griffith Central says the future of the town’s biggest shopping mall is secure, despite it being at the centre of a multi-million-dollar loan dispute.

The mall was allegedly put up as security for loans worth $22 million, according to Supreme Court documents, an exclusive Region investigation has found.

However, owner Frank Violi says he was a victim of fraud and this security was granted without his knowledge or consent.

Mr Violi, 69, has been named as a defendant in an ongoing non-criminal Supreme Court case being contested between two large investment firms.

According to court documents, Gemi 169 Pty Ltd allegedly loaned Suria Global Pty Ltd $19.5 million in March 2020.

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The company F &L Violi Pty Ltd was alleged to be one of the guarantors of that loan. Frank Violi is the sole director and shareholder of this company.

The court was told a mortgage was allegedly taken out over the shopping mall as security under the loan.

Lawyers for Gemi 169 state the company made a second loan of just over $2.5 million to Suria Global in January 2021, with F & L Violi again allegedly one of the loan guarantors and the mall again used as security.

In January 2022, GEMI 169 issued default notices to Suria Global and F & L Violi, alleging repayment of the loans was overdue.

Mr Violi denied knowledge of either loan and said he was a victim of fraud, claiming the securities were granted without his knowledge or consent.

He said the ‘Frank Violi’ signature on loan documents was not signed by him.

Gemi 169 took Suria Global, Mr Violi and other parties to the Supreme Court to contest the matter. The case commenced in early 2022 and remains ongoing.

The Griffith Central owner told Region he had done nothing wrong and would strenuously defend himself against all allegations.

“The mall won’t be affected by this at all,” he said.

Mr Violi has not been charged with any offences in relation to the disputed loans. The Supreme Court case is being fought in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to property or money and is not a criminal matter.

In June 2022, the Supreme Court judge approved an application by Gemi 169 to authorise searches of properties owned by defendants, including Mr Violi’s Lake Wyangan home and the shopping mall.

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Another hearing on the Gemi 169 v Suria Global court case is scheduled for 18 November 2023.

Region can also reveal the Griffith shopping mall was briefly placed under external administration on 11 June 2022, according to documents filed with the federal business regulator. This period of external administration ended on 15 July 2022.

The company remains registered today and is trading legally.

Griffith Central first opened its doors in October 2007, instantly becoming the biggest shopping centre the town had ever seen.

It was originally owned by Melbourne-based investors but was purchased by Mr Violi in 2019.

Speculation about the mall’s future has circulated around town since then, but it has continued to attract new retailers as tenants. Popular shoe franchise Platypus opened a store in June 2023.

It was rumoured that Dan Murphy’s would launch in the mall soon, but the state alcohol regulator has rejected the retailer’s application for a liquor licence in Griffith.

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