At 68 most men would have long retired. For Alan Bond, 68 is the age where he sets out to rebuild his lost empire.
"I never lost faith in my ability to climb the mountain again," Bond told the British high society magazine Tatler two years ago, when he was in London promoting his companies to would-be investors.
Bond was born in London but found his first fortune in Australia, where as a sign painter he noticed the large number of homes for sale and went into the property business in a big way.
This time round, he is going for something much more esoteric: energy and mining in developing countries.
Bond is now getting ready to fold his interest in Lesotho Diamond Corporation into a tiny company called River Diamond that is listed on London's junior stock exchange AIM.
He has also raised an US$85 million credit facility for his Madagascar Oil Ltd with Credit Suisse as the lead manager. The man who has risen from rag to riches and even then to the prison is gearing up for what he typically claims to be the biggest business opportunity of his colourful life.
Many may have doubts about doing business in dirt-poor Lesotho in Africa and on the island of Madagascar, but Bond commands attention. He was, after all, the most famous businessman in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s, eclipsing compatriots such as Rupert Murdoch and the late Kerry Packer.
Murdoch might have built a media empire straddling the globe, partly with the help of topless girls on page 3 on his tabloids; while Packer might have single-handedly changed the world of cricket and built another media empire; but it was Bond who helped Australia snare the coveted America’s Cup, the highest award in yachting. He would also go down in history as the man who paid a record price for a Van Gogh within weeks of the 1987 stockmarket crash.
Bond bought Van Gogh’s famous Irises for US$54 million in a Sotheby’s auction, then a record. The purchase made him famous beyond the boundaries of Australia. A subsequent revelation that Sotheby’s had loaned him most of that money and that he had refused to repay the auction house made him equally infamous.
By then Bond’s mega property deals in Australia, Hong Kong and elsewhere were unraveling. He was declared bankrupt in 1992 and sent to jail in 1997 for committing corporate fraud exceeding US$1 billion—another record in his career.
Bond got himself out in three years on appeal. After that, it was revealed that he had kept a handsome part of his fortune intact, stashed in places the Australian authorities could not reach. He was said to be worth US$100 million when he walked out the gates of the prison. In contrast, his creditors only managed to recover less than US$4 million of his assets.
Since then Bond has been travelling around the world, making increasingly high-profile appearances in London where he talked about how his recent investments in gold, diamond, oil would all be coming into production, from which he would make a fortune that dwarfed what he once had.
And like Murdoch, Bond is a new convert to the Internet age—he has set up a Web site on himself and his projects, and also on the charities he is supposed to have established in Africa and elsewhere.
"Although it (Lesotho) is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 58 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, investment from companies such as Lesotho Diamonds Corporation will enhance the quality of life for all," it states.