Fall from grace of Mr Billabong

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

“I was paranoid for the right reasons. Matthew was a liar and a cheater” … Nicole, pictured, on Matthew’s affair with Belinda Otton. Photo: Michelle Smith

Once fabulously rich, a surfwear boss is penniless, his marriage is finished and his ex-wife is accusing him of forgery, reports Cosima Marriner.

FOR 18 months Billabong surfwear boss Matthew Perrin swore he wasn’t having an affair. His former wife recalls the Gold Coast multimillionaire looking her in the eye and swearing on their three children’s lives that he had not strayed.

Whenever Nicole questioned her childhood sweetheart, he would allegedly tell her: ”You’re paranoid. You’re trying to destroy our marriage. Of course you trust me. We’ve been together since you were 16. There is no reason not to trust me.”

But Nicole couldn’t let go of her suspicions. Her husband was always on the phone, would pull out of holidays at the last minute citing work, and constantly wanted to party.

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“Youre paranoid. Youre trying to destroy our marriage. Of course you trust me” … Former Billabong boss Matthew Perrin, according to his ex-wife. Photo: Glen Hunt

Then there was the second phone Nicole learnt he was using to secretly text during their family holiday in Hawaii. And the diamond bracelet or the Gucci dress, two sizes too small for her, hidden in his suitcase.

There were the whispers she kept hearing that he was seeing a mother from their children’s school. The secret phone bills which showed he was calling Belinda Otton, who had recently split from her husband. (Matthew claimed Ms Otton was suicidal and he was merely a shoulder to cry on.)

The Perrins tried marriage counselling and twice Nicole hired investigators to tail Matthew, but they did not find anything. Nicole told her husband she wanted to go back to their old, quieter lives, but he wasn’t interested.

“The worst thing he could do to me would be to have an affair” .. Ex-wife Nicole Perrin, who subsequently found out her husband was having an affair with Belinda Otton, pictured. Photo: Michelle Smith

”We had children so young,” Matthew allegedly argued. ”This is our time. We’ve got all this money. We need to start living.”

The Perrins had been living well since Matthew pocketed $66 million from the sale of two-thirds of his stake in Billabong in 2002. They enjoyed holidays on Hayman Island, skiing in New Zealand, a $130,000 Mercedes, horses, private schooling for the children, entertaining, and a $15 million Surfers Paradise mansion purchased in Nicole’s name.

Now Matthew Perrin is penniless, his marriage is over and Nicole is fighting a court battle to stop the Commonwealth Bank repossessing her beloved family home. She claims her husband forged her signature without her knowledge to borrow $13.5 million against the house.

Nicole’s version of events emerged in the Supreme Court in Brisbane last week when the former beautician and daughter of well-known bookmaker Laurie Bricknell revealed in brutal detail the unravelling of her marriage. She argues there is no way she would have agreed to mortgage her only asset just six months after finally confirming her husband’s affair.

”Matthew … was the only man I’d ever been with,” Nicole said. ”As far as I knew … it was the same for him. The worst thing he could do to me would be to have an affair.”

From age 24 Nicole had left it to her husband to handle the finances. But now she feared her marriage was about to collapse, she demanded access to all his bank accounts.

”I needed to know I had security for myself and my children,” she said, breaking down in tears. ”He told me, ‘You’ve got security. You’ve got the house. The house is yours and the kids.’ No one will ever take it off you. I can’t even take it off you.”’

On Boxing Day 2007, Nicole found proof of Matthew’s adultery: texts on his phone from Ms Otton. Still Matthew denied it, until a confrontation with Ms Otton’s ex-husband the next day forced him to come clean, although he claimed the affair had ended more than a year earlier.

”I was paranoid for the right reasons,” Nicole told the court. ”Matthew was a liar and a cheater.”

Still, she opted to stay with her husband and try to work things out.

But in January 2009, Nicole noticed him acting strangely again. He was stressed, working long hours, and constantly making phone calls. He avoided eye contact and once, on the way to brunch, he pulled the car over and vomited by the road.

It was so reminiscent of his behaviour during the affair that Nicole was anxious. When Matthew asked her to meet him at a cafe, Nicole was certain he was leaving her.

”My mind was racing, thinking he’s going to leave me, he’s going to leave me. This is crunch now. He’s going to tell me the marriage is over and he’s going to leave me. I panicked. I thought I have to protect my children and I.”

She went to the Commonwealth Bank and transferred $10 million out of the family bank account to her personal account. She also withdrew $3000 cash. ”I went shopping for a little while,” she told the court. ”I was trying to work out how to deal with Matthew telling me he was leaving me.”

When Nicole returned home, she found Matthew crying and shaking. ”He said … ‘What I’m going to tell you is going to change our lives forever.’ I said, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right, I know you’re going to leave me.’ He said, ‘No, it’s far worse than that … I’m going to jail … I’ve done a lot of bad things. I’ve stolen money from people and I’m broke.’ ”

Nicole told him not to worry. ”Whatever happens, we’ve still got our house. That’s worth more than a lot of people have.”

Matthew had put his hands on her shoulders and allegedly said: ”You don’t understand.”

At a crisis meeting with Matthew’s two brothers, his China business partner, and Nicole’s father, Matthew sat on the floor sobbing, head in his hands, as he revealed the extent of his financial strife.

He had been worth $150 million just the previous year but his business venture to buy up mini-marts across China, transform them into the equivalent of a Woolworths chain and float the business on the stock exchange had soured.

Now he owed $1 million to bookmakers, $4 million to family friend and former motorcycle world champion Mick Doohan, $1.5 million to fund manager SAI, and $13 million to the Commonwealth Bank. Worst of all, he had mortgaged the house without telling anyone.

”You can’t,” a hysterical Nicole shouted. ”The house is in my name. The house is in my name.”

Less than three months later, Matthew Perrin filed for bankruptcy with debts of $20 million. In September 2009, the Perrins separated. They have since divorced.

The Sun-Herald was unable to reach Matthew Perrin for comment. The case continues.

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