Sunday, July 29, 2012


How drugs floored high-flying Rocky

Edition: 1 - State
Section: Opinion, pg. 074

MILLIONAIRE broker turned drug smuggler Ian ``Rocky'' Chalmers got
a second chance with Macquarie Bank in the 1990s after undergoing
drug rehabilitation and promising to stay clean.

The former high-powered deal maker for Macquarie, found guilty last
week of trying to help smuggle 30kg of cocaine into Australia,
had problems with drugs in the past.

His conviction marked the low-point of a manic life, where bouts of
drug-fuelled excess and gambling alternated with periods of impressive
professional achievement.

Regarded by colleagues with a mixture of awe, fondness and trepidation,
Rocky - or Rock, as he was known - was a prominent member of
the party set that spills out of Sydney's financial district every
week, filling the city's swish bars and restaurants.

He was also an important member of Macquarie Bank's executive team,
heading its equities division and stitching together key deals
that helped cement its place among the world's leading finance firms.

Ironically, his greatest coup may have been securing the acquisitions
that led to the creation of Macquarie Airports - majority owner
of Sydney Airport, through which Chalmers and his alleged co-conspirators
planned to smuggle their cocaine.

He cut a lonely figure in court last week, abandoned by his wide circle
of former friends and associates - including high-profile medical
and sporting figures from the charity he helped found, Sporting
Chance Cancer Foundation.

Only his sister turned out to support him, sobbing quietly in court
as he was led away.

Nevertheless, his case was closely followed by members of the financial
community, inspiring both fascination and horror at the fate
of a ``genius'' gone awry.

After beginning his career in Sydney, Chalmers, now 42, left for Britain
in the mid-1990s, where he soon became a well-known member
of a growing community of expat Australian brokers working in the
City, London's financial heart.

But in a pattern that would repeat itself, his increasingly hedonistic
lifestyle got the better of him.

He left London under a cloud, booking himself into rehabilitation.

Back in Australia in the late 1990s, he scored a lucky break.

Macquarie, whose global ambitions were beginning to take flight, agreed
to take a now-contrite Chalmers under its wing.

At first, the arrangement worked well for both parties.

Chalmers began exercising and losing weight, soberly fulfilling a
promise to both his employer and his wife Stephanie, with whom he
had two children. For a time, the family lived happily on the North
Shore, as Chalmers re-established his reputation.

Soon he was trusted enough to be quoted in the business media on market
trends, making him a kind of representative for Macquarie,
notorious for its tight control of publicity.

In 2002, with other Macquarie executives, he even pitched in to support
the float of Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group,
which at the time was struggling in a flat market.

He bought 200,000 shares with his own money at $2 each. Shares in
the group closed at $6.12 on Friday.

REGARDED as outstanding and brilliant, even in an organisation that
prides itself on recruiting only the brightest, Chalmers was perhaps
Macquarie's pre-eminent broker.

Yet senior executives were also aware of his volatile flipside, and
in his first years there, they managed him closely.

Later, when the bank adopted a flatter management style, Chalmers
began to drift out of their grasp.

His job included schmoozing potential clients and partners, a role
that necessarily involved long lunches and late nights, with an
expense account to match.

Generous to a fault and charming to boot, he was the perfect host
- his lunches became legendary.

Perhaps they were also the slippery slope that began his slide back
towards excess.

By 2003, with his marriage over, he had moved into a new house in
Sydney's northern beaches.

Macquarie was reluctant to reveal details of his departure in May,
2004 - even to police.

His swashbuckling style had suited the period of Macquarie's big expansion
but times had changed.

Managing assets is a different game to acquiring them, and Chalmers'
life was clearly spiralling out of control.

Despite receiving a $1.3 million payout on his departure from Macquarie,
plus a substantial share package, his finances were a mess
by the time of his May, 2005 arrest.

He had part-owned properties that sold just a few years earlier for
well over $1 million each, but was initially unable to post the
$500,000 bond needed to secure his release on bail.

Regularly behind in his $7000 monthly child support payments, he was
stalked by creditors eyeing remaining assets, including two BMWs.

BY then, he had moved into a nondescript terrace house in the eastern
suburbs, paying $2000 a month in rent.

Debts to increasingly bitter friends and relatives kept mounting.
As constant gambling depleted his dwindling resources, Chalmers fell
in with a motley crew of alleged cocaine dealers involved in
a plot to import a large shipment.

Unknown to them, police were on their tail, taping conversations in
a major investigation dubbed Operation Mocha. Among those allegedly
connected with the ring were former Rugby League star Les Mara,
who played for Balmain and New South Wales, and a former NSW
police detective sergeant, Ian Finch.

Mara remains on the run, while Finch was sentenced to a minimum 3
1/2 years jail for his part in the syndicate.

Police allege another key player, accused drug baron Sean North, planned
to exploit Chalmers' financial connections, referring to him
as ``my banker''.

They taped more than 90 conversations between North, also still on
the run, and Chalmers over a three-month period early last year.

The shipment, worth up to $15 million, never left South America -
the conspiracy fell apart amid fears publicity surrounding Schapelle
Corby's case would expose plans to use airport baggage handlers.

In the end, Chalmers' role was relatively minor, restricted to buying
$8000 plane tickets for the alleged drug couriers between South
America and Australia.

It was enough, however, to ensure he faces a maximum life term when
he appears for sentencing on November 10. It is a story to send
a chill down the spine of many a well-heeled high-flyer.

Copyright 2006 / Sunday Mail (SA)

Source: Sunday Mail (Adelaide), SEP 03, 2006
Item: 200609031074618926