ASX company in trading halt over links to accused Mokbel money man’s debt

An ASX-listed company planning the global launch of a new hand sanitiser range has been forced into a trading halt while it is owed more than $8 million by a Carlton-based business linked to a Melbourne underworld figure.

Skin Elements has voluntarily suspended trading in its shares on four separate occasions since January 28 as it awaits payment from State Securities, which was appointed last year to underwrite an options deal to raise $10.5 million.

Tom Karas has been accused of being drug kingpin Tony Mokbel’s money launderer.

State Securities was previously run by Tom Karas, who owes $67 million to the Tax Office and has been accused of laundering the proceeds of Tony Mokbel’s drug empire.

The Carlton-based company is now owned by Mr Karas’ brother-in-law, Nick Meletsis, a former nightclub owner with no experience in global financial markets.

Tony Mokbel was arrested in Greece in 2007 wearing a famously ill-fitting hairpiece.

While Mr Meletsis has previously denied acting as a dummy director, sources familiar with the company claim Mr Karas was directly involved in the funding deal with Skin Elements, despite being declared bankrupt in 2015.

Mr Meletsis refused to comment when asked this week about how and when State Securities would settle the massive debt. Skin Elements executive chairman Peter Malone also declined to respond to questions.

The Age does not suggest any wrongdoing by Mr Malone.

In May last year, The Age revealed the involvement of State Securities in the capital raising, which appears to have escaped scrutiny from corporate regulators.

At the time of the deal, Skin Elements claimed in an ASX announcement that State Securities had a “long history in both property and equity markets and has an extensive network of high net worth individuals and [section] 708 qualified sophisticated investors”.

The announcement in April 2020 was followed by a 10-fold increase in the share price of Skin Elements, amid speculation that international distribution deals had been finalised.

Former nightclub owner Nick Meletsis.

But in January 2021, State Securities was informed that more than 91 million options had not been exercised and it was now obliged to pay Skin Elements $9,101,870.

State Securities has paid just $500,000, with about $8.6 million outstanding. However, Mr Karas, who was declared bankrupt in 2015, has a poor record of settling debts.

He owes almost $67 million to the Tax Office, according to a creditors report by Pitcher Partners from May 2020, after battling with authorities for more than a decade over the source of his wealth.

In 2011, the ATO won a Supreme Court judgement against Mr Karas that ordered him to pay $21 million in taxes on unexplained income and assets, some of which were allegedly derived from business dealings with the Mokbel drug empire.

Mr Karas, who was named by the Purana anti-gangland taskforce as a “primary person of interest” in Melbourne’s organised crime scene, has also been accused of laundering millions of dollars through the stolen identity of his cousin Christos Karaglanis, an olive picker and taxi driver in Greece.

Mr Meletsis also has a colourful past that is at odds with his company’s role in a multimillion-dollar deal with an ASX-listed company.

His former business partner Lou Jovanovski alleged in court documents that Mr Meletsis attacked him with a baseball bat.

The pair had previously operated the James Squire Hotel in Docklands before falling out over a disputed debt of $540,000.

In court documents, Mr Jovanovski alleged Mr Meletsis beat him with a baseball bat after forcing him to pick one of three handwritten envelopes labelled “baseball bat”, “claw [hammer]” and “apology”.

Mr Meletsis has been repeatedly accused by liquidators of other companies of concealing assets or acting as a “straw director” on behalf of Mr Karas.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission declined to comment.

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