It was a glamorous musical showcase at the Sydney Opera House.
In front of an audience that included Nauru’s President Baron Waqa, violinist Harmonnia Junus performed a selection of classical music and popular Taiwanese folk songs with an orchestra.
But several members of Sydney’s Chinese community claim the million-dollar violin in her hand and the appearance of Taiwan’s Evergreen Symphony Orchestra in July 2015 were largely funded by her father, Teddy Junus, using the proceeds of a multimillion-dollar immigration racket.
Mr Junus – a wealthy north shore businessman who boasted of networking with Tony Abbott, Andrew Robb and Kevin Rudd – is accused of rorting the system for subclass 457 and 163 visas, taking between $15,000 and $310,000 from dozens of hopeful migrants, most of whom were left with nothing.
The case, which is being investigated by NSW Police and the federal Department of Immigration, exposes the murky world of unlicensed migration agents and visa services exploiting the tens of thousands of Chinese people who are desperate to come to Australia.
“In the Chinese community, this sort of business is always based on reputation. If someone says he is very experienced, he is helpful, he can do a lot of things, then people trust him,” said one alleged fraud victim, Mr Sing, who said he was once a close friend of Mr Junus’ but is now owed $790,000.
All five victims that Fairfax Media interviewed asked to be identified by their surnames only, partly due to embarrassment and fear.
They said they were referred to Mr Junus, 43, by friends and business partners who knew of his initial success in obtaining visas. They were told to pay half the fee upfront and sign handwritten agreements since proven worthless.
Mr Junus’ now-abandoned Pitt Street office was once adorned with photos of him with Mr Rudd, Phillip Ruddock and the Buddhist religion master Hsing Yun.
He was pictured with Mr Abbott, former trade minister Mr Robb and Clive Palmer at government-run Chinese business networking events.
However, he has since gone to ground, moving out of his East Killara mansion and abandoning his office after a female victim threatened to die by suicide there due to missing money.
“I made the biggest mistake in my life in believing him. We used our cash and also borrowed from friends to lend to him and then he ‘disappeared’,” said another alleged victim, Mr Zhou, in China. “This has almost broken my life and our whole family.”
Mr Junus falsely advertised himself as a migration agent, telling hopeful Chinese migrants that he could obtain visas and then permanent residency.
In some instances, he obtained 457 visas by claiming people were employees of companies he set up. In other cases, he set up import/export businesses for people so they would qualify for a 163 or “sponsored business owner” visa.
One businessman paid $865,000 to get 457 and permanent residency visas for 10 friends and relatives, according to a statement of claim filed in the NSW District Court in one of five civil suits.
The businessman obtained a bankruptcy order in March but trustees have not been able to find Mr Junus or his money.
In the five civil claims, totalling $1.3 million, victims say they were often instructed to make payments into Chinese bank accounts.
One victim, Mrs Hu, was introduced to Mr Junus because she wanted to get permanent residency so her daughter could go to high school in Sydney.
“He said Mrs Hu can be employed in Teddy’s company. He only needed one [employee] but he’d say he needed 20 or 30 [employees]. He said the company can pay Mrs Hu her money back as a ‘salary’ and the government will see he pays a lot of tax so they will give PR quickly,” her daughter told Fairfax Media.
She paid $150,000 upfront but, more than two years on, has not seen a visa.
Mr Junus has proved elusive to his alleged victims and to the authorities.
ASIC prosecuted him in Sutherland Local Court this year when he disappeared without handing company information over to liquidators for one of his companies, Crown International Enterprises.
Between 20 and 30 victims have established a support group on China’s social network, Weibo, and say they are owed several million dollars.
A former employee confirmed that, in the midst of victims’ desperate pleas for money, Mr Junus paid $100,000 to Taiwan’s Chang Yung-Fa Foundation to fund the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Australia. In December, his wife sold their East Killara mansion for $2.45 million.
Mr Junus, who also goes by the name Hsiung Chung, declined to speak to Fairfax Media by phone, saying: “I’m in a meeting.”
His lawyer Chris Ford declined to comment, citing the ongoing police investigation.
Mr Ford said he was only retained to deal with the criminal investigation and could not comment on why Mr Junus has evaded creditors and ASIC, and ignored civil court orders.
A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokeswoman said that “appropriate investigations were under way”.
“Visa and migration fraud is a serious matter with significant consequences,” she said.