Former Strategic Airlines founder Michael James at Brisbane Airport with one of A320 planes in the fleet. Photo: Liam Kidston
Former Strategic Airlines founder Michael James at Brisbane Airport with one of A320 planes in the fleet. Photo: Liam Kidston

Bestjet: No money back in $14m disaster

THE failed Bestjet Travel online booking group collapsed owing more than $14 million and creditors are unlikely to recover any money.

The grim outlook comes as it emerged this week that disgraced aviation executive Michael James played a key role running the Brisbane-based group, which has left hundreds of angry customers owed thousands of dollars and demanding answers.

James is a former bankrupt who in 2013 was banned from running companies for three years after his Air Australia airline went bust owing nearly $100 million in 2012.

Despite this history, he controlled the accounting and payroll systems at Bestjet and also enjoyed use of a company credit card.

The behind-the-scenes revelations feature in a "company activities and property'' report made available this week by the corporate regulator.

It shows James's Singapore company OTALab is chasing an alleged debt of $97,000 and he is claiming to be a "priority creditor'' over unsecured parties such as dudded ticket holders.

The report was compiled by Bestjet owner and director Robert McVicker, who spent just 39 days running the company before tipping it into administration on December 18 along with subsidiaries Wynyard Travel and Brooklyn Travel.

He bought the group from James' wife, Rachel James, who registered it just two weeks after Air Australia's demise.

 

Rachel James at Bestjet in the Valley. Photo: Annette Dew
Rachel James at Bestjet in the Valley. Photo: Annette Dew

McVicker's family formerly ran logistics business Morris Corporation, which they sold for about $100 million to French giant Sodexo in 2017.

But the report shows he took a very hands-off approach to running Bestjet. He acknowledges having a "limited understanding'' of key parts of the business and "no access'' to the accounting system run by Michael James.

The report reveals Bestjet only had two employees, Michael James and Craig McKim-Hill, even though it also used a call centre in the Philippines. McKim-Hill previously worked for Michael James as a head of ground operations at Strategic Airlines, which later rebadged itself as Air Australia before its demise.

Bestjet racing car
Bestjet racing car

Michael James also took to Facebook in March last year to boast about the Bestjet three car racing team entered in the Bathurst 6 Hour race.

Bestjet creditors are scheduled to hold a second meeting later this month, where they are expected to place the company in liquidation.

Michael James could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, more than 1500 clients have joined the "Bestjet Fiasco Action Group'' on Facebook to draw attention to their plight, which includes cancelled holidays, lack of refunds and double billing.