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Ningaloo waters murky

MYSTERY offshore companies have emerged as the biggest shareholders in a property developer behind a controversial marina project on the sensitive Ningaloo Reef.

Two companies linked to the same Hong Kong address, Gammut Development Pty Ltd and Cobyrne Ltd have a combined total of 34 shares out of 136 shares in Coral Coast Marina Development Pty Ltd which is the company behind the proposed Mauds Landing project near Coral Bay.

According to documents released to Business News by the company, the next biggest shareholder is Byrflod Pty Ltd with 10 shares.

Conservationists said they were concerned about the apparent secrecy of the foreign ownership levels in such a sensitive project but WA Government sources said they were comfortable that they knew who they were dealing with.

The proposal still has to jump a series of regulatory hurdles but there has been considerable opposition to the $200 million resort, including this week's outspoken comments by WA author Tim Winton.

Coral Coast Marina Development director Richard Hay could not cast much light on the major shareholders, except that they heralded from South Africa, had provided funding when it had been hard to come by in Australia and did not interfere in the company's operations.

But conservationists which researched the ownership of the company queried the level of information provided to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Gammut is not a registered Australian company according to ASIC records but further information provided by the regulator shows the correct name is Gamut Development Ltd, which registered to an address in the Gloucester Tower in Central Hong Kong. Cobyrne has the same address.

WA Greens candidate for Mining and Pastoral Robin Chapple said he was concerned about the lack of disclosure regarding the high foreign ownership level.

"This sensitive and major project appears to be in the hands of mysterious people," Mr Chapple said.

"We don't have access to a heads of agreement to find out what the State agency knows."

Mr Hay said Hong Kong-based Gammut Development was a simply seed capitalist owned by the number of shareholders mainly from South Africa and Australia, including pilots and developers.

"They have overseas interests and they came into this through the Hong Kong-based company. I think they are a diverse company which has other interests besides our company," Mr Hay said.

"As far as I'm aware they have no other interest in Australia. They play no part in the day to day running of the business. We simply don't hear from them anymore."

"They put their money up when it was very difficult to find it in Australia."

According to CCMD director Alan Smith Gammut Developments invested $500,000 into Coral Coast Marina in 1994 when local money dried up.

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