A SUNSHINE Coast fraudster who targeted friends, including vulnerable widows and recently bereaved, stripping them of inheritances valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars is now languishing in a South African prison.
Luke Bracken of Buderim, 55, has been remanded in custody by the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court for the past week.
A bail hearing Thursday night (Australian time) was postponed while police gathered additional information including from police on the Sunshine Coast.
The owner of Bracken International Mining, Bracken is charged with defrauding several South African business people.
In one instance it is alleged he attempted to solicit $US12,000 and 20,000 Sterling Pounds which he said would be used to fly to Brussels to secure the release of $US500million to be used to fund their business ventures.
Luke Bracken was the chair of Bracken International Mining, a company that in 2012 described itself as a manganese developer with plans to list on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
He shifted to the Sunshine Coast in the late 1980s and later managed Broken Head quarry while living at Fernleigh.
Bracken first came to attention in 1995 as the writer, director and co-producer of the documentary Our Children Didn't Come Home, which told the tragic story of ex-pats Kellie Wilkinson, Dominic Chappell and Tina Dominy who had been kidnapped and executed by the Khmer Rouge on April 11-12, 1994.
Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards said Coast police had been on the verge of arresting Mr Bracken in relation to one of several matters they are investigating when news came through that he was being held in a South African prison.
"Here he has enticed people to give money to invest in a gold mine venture," Det Sen Sgt Edwards said.
"He's a typical fraud offender who had false documents."
Det Sen Sgt Edwards said police remained unsure of the extent of Mr Bracken's activities but it involved at least hundreds of thousands of dollars here and possibly millions with more complainants interstate.
He said the matter was just one of several fraud cases being investigated by Sunshine Coast police with some involving millions of dollars.
Det Sen Sgt Edwards said the region had the largest over 60s population in the state, making it a target for fraudsters.
Police have spent the past two days taking statements from the Sunshine Coast women who invested money in Bracken's schemes.
Private investigator Des Beaton was engaged in September 2014 by one victim from Newcastle who loaned Bracken $150,000.
He has since uncovered $15million worth of losses but said the final figure would be huge.
Mr Beaton, of Impulse Business Solutions Investigations, said at least 12 women had been fleeced on the Sunshine Coast but victims across Australia including Sydney and Melbourne - including business people and financial institutions - had lost individually amounts of more than $1million each.
He believes there are further victims in Africa, Dubai, Britain and China.
"I would be surprised if he is not fronting a broader organisation," Mr Beaton said.
"My attitude is no man, woman or child could spend that amount of money on general expenses.
"He lives in motels and buys meals and airline tickets."
Mr Beaton is aware of 50 people who had been caught in the sting but said the number was growing every day.
"He got millions from Sydney," he said. "Some checked every piece of paperwork that all had proper letterheads but it was all fraud.
"I have folders of documents and they are all forged."
Victims contacted by the Sunshine Coast Daily have spoken of the shame and guilt they have felt for trusting Bracken who they thought was a friend but who had groomed them before stripping them of their assets.
Ann-Marie Griffin of Sunshine Beach said Bracken, who she first met 25 years ago, had appeared back in her life when she was vulnerable and ultimately took every cent of an inheritance she received from her mother and then convinced her to max out her credit cards to pay for his airfares.
The money was originally meant to be a two-week loan secured against a Buderim property owned by his mother.
But the property was also allegedly given by Bracken as security against a much larger investment by another party who eventually recouped his money from its sale.
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