FORMER MasterChef Australia contestant and mining chief executive Aaron Thomas has been accused of stealing $7.6 million from the iron ore company he founded, Oakmont Resources.
Mr Thomas allegedly embezzled Oakmont funds from its Brazilian project portfolio across a three year period to fund his extravagant lifestyle – including private jets and cars, a luxury yacht and New York apartment, and a $171,000 Tiffany engagement ring for his Brazilian fiancée, Thaiana Rodrigues.
Mr Thomas formed London-based Oakmont in 2010, but was fired as chief executive in January after the board became aware of the company’s hefty financial discrepancies. Oakmont launched legal action against Mr Thomas at the Manhattan Supreme Court soon after.
“A recent investigation conducted by the company, assisted by forensic accountants, has revealed that Thomas used misappropriated company money to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself and defendant (Thaiana) Rodrigues, his fiancee, all at the expense of the company and its shareholders,” the lawsuit stated.
“Thomas charged Oakmont for a substantial amount of supposed ‘business’ expenses which were, in fact, personal expenses which could have no possible business purpose and for which Thomas produced no or incomplete documentation.
“While Thomas has made some disclosures as to the whereabouts of the misappropriated funds, a sum of around [$2.5 million] remains unaccounted for.”
According to Sydney Morning Herald, when Mr Thomas was confronted by the board with evidence of his financial transgressions, he produced a “service
contract” which he said proved he was entitled to his claimed compensation.
However, the lawsuit alleged the contract “lacks a company seal, counter-signature of any other director, and does not exist in the company records”. The document further stated Mr Thomas had deceived shareholders into investing in the company, “based in part on representations…concerning his experience running companies of this kind” and that he “purported (erroneously) to be a trained geologist”.
Mr Thomas appeared on MasterChef Australia in 2009, and at the time, listed his occupation as ‘student’. After his ousting from the series he turned to a career in finance.
Mr Thomas told New York Post the lawsuit was an attempt by Oakmont to gain his remaining company shares, and stated his intention to file a countersuit.