Former Hong Kong banker jailed in Australia over 'collar bomb' attack

Ex-Hong Kong resident jailed for 13½ years for breaking into teen's family home, attaching fake device to her and leaving ransom note

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 3:05am

A former Hong Kong investment banker who chained a fake "collar bomb" to a Sydney teenager as part of a bizarre extortion plot was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison yesterday.

Madeleine Pulver, then 18, was alone at her family's mansion in August last year when fellow Australian Paul Peters walked in wearing a ski mask and carrying a baseball bat. He tethered a bomb-like device to her neck along with a ransom note and then slipped away.

It took a bomb squad 10 hours to remove the device, which contained no explosives.

Peters, 52, failed to convince the judge that his crime was the result of a meltdown sparked by a failed marriage and career. Instead, the judge said the once-successful businessman and father of three had shown no remorse, lied to police and was motivated by one thing: money.

"The offender intended to place the very young victim in fear that she would be killed," New South Wales District Court Judge Peter Zahra said. "The terror instilled can only be described as unimaginable."

Pulver hugged relatives after the sentence was read. Her father wiped away tears.

"I'm pleased at today's outcome and that I can now look to a future without Paul Peters' name being linked to mine," Pulver said outside court. "For me, it was never about the sentencing, but to know that he will not reoffend. And it was good to hear the judge acknowledge the trauma he has put my family and me through."

Zahra gave Peters less than the maximum sentence of 20 years, acknowledging that he pleaded guilty and was likely depressed at the time.

Peters was raised in Hong Kong and spent part of his career here as an investment banker. His ransom note was signed "Dirk Struan", the pirate-turned-tycoon hero of James Clavell's Hong Kong novel Tai-Pan.

After attacking the teen, he fled to the US, but police used an e-mail address he left on the ransom note to track him down. Authorities arrested him two weeks later at his ex-wife's home in Kentucky and extradited him to Australia. He pleaded guilty in March to aggravated break and enter and committing a serious indictable offence.

Defence lawyers had argued that Peters was depressed, drinking heavily, and exhibiting wild mood swings before committing the crime and had no memory of the attack. He had recently split from his wife, was separated from his children and had become obsessed with a book he was writing about a villain in Hong Kong out for revenge, his lawyer Tim Game said during earlier hearings.

A psychiatrist for the defence testified that Peters may have tried to become the evil protagonist in his book. Peters told the psychiatrist: "It's not about money, it's about revenge." But prosecutors said the opposite was true.

Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen said Pulver was not Peters' intended target. The investment banker was having financial problems and originally travelled to Mosman, the wealthy Sydney suburb where the Pulvers live, to hunt down the beneficiary of a multimillion-dollar trust fund he had learned about, she said.

When he arrived in Mosman, he bumped into a neighbour of the Pulvers whom he had met while doing business in Hong Kong. That man then became Peters' new target, Cunneen said. But on the day of the attack, Peters walked into the wrong house.

Pulver was just the unwitting victim of Peters' incompetence, the prosecutor said. Embarrassed by his bungle, Peters concocted a story about being delusional and not remembering the crime to save face, Cunneen said.

Peters, who will be eligible for parole in 10 years, cried when the judge detailed the problems he had been facing with his marriage and career but showed no emotion when Zahra described the trauma Pulver had endured.

"Mr Peters has … shown no clear remorse for this entire event," said her father, Bill Pulver. "There has still been no apology nor any explanation for his behaviour, which is disappointing."