South Eastern Livestock Exchange (SELX) moves to cut ties with arrestee Rohan Arnold

Gobsmacked, shocked and angry is how Rowena Abbey describes her reaction to the news of Rohan Arnold's arrest in Serbia last week.

The Yass Valley mayor is a business associate of Mr Arnold, 44, of Jeir, as directors of the South Eastern Livestock Exchange (SELX).

Her husband, Brendan Abbey, and Mr Arnold are also directors of Yass Industrial Park, seeking to build a Yass Valley Way service station.

Further, the Abbeys are business partners with Mr Arnold in the recently opened Western Victoria Livestock Exchange (WVLX) in Mortlake.

Arrested with three other men on January 18 in Serbia, Mr Arnold is being held on suspicion of ties to an international drug ring.

Nine months earlier, Australian Federal Police and Border Force officers had seized and investigated a 1.2 tonne import of cocaine hidden in a shipment of steel from China into Sydney.

“All we’re aware of is that he’s been arrested," Cr Abbey said, "but it wouldn’t matter if he’s innocent or not anymore for us.

“We’ve spent most of our time in shock. Now we’re angry he’s brought disrepute upon decent people who have built a great facility.

“No one thought this would happen to us, especially in our town and for close-knit people who know that we’ve got a good project.

“We’ve all been led astray and duped. He’s brought us into disrepute just by association."

Were the SELX directors embarrassed by the association? “We’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about ... We haven’t done anything wrong," she said.

Cr Abbey said her husband was introduced to Mr Arnold in 2014 by a mutual business associate, whose name she declined to disclose.

She met Mr Arnold soon after that: “We didn’t know who he was but, as a steel manufacturer, he was interested in quoting on [SELX].”

Mr Arnold became a business partner after the Southern Joint Planning Panel approved the SELX development application at a Yass Valley Council meeting in September 2014.

She said they were “certainly aware” at the time about the liquidation and alleged debts of Mr Arnold’s Mass Steel business in Goulburn in mid 2012.

She told the Tribune the business had gone into administration only, but insolvency practitioners Kazar Slaven effected the liquidation in March 2013.

“At the time, he told us that he had been put into administration, which was the truth. We did our own investigations as to why that had come about.

“The events in Goulburn was public information and that was certainly part of the conversation that we explored before entering a partnership.

“We had conversations about each of the people who came into the business to understand their backgrounds.

"This was about building a project and everyone brought a different skill set to the business,” Cr Abbey said.

It was Mr Arnold’s background in building and construction that was the main reason for the partnership, she said.

The Abbeys are now exploring how to remove Mr Arnold as both a shareholder and director from SELX, WVLX and Yass Industrial Park.

Mr Arnold is the biggest shareholder in the three companies, with a 44.9 per cent stake through his company SELX Holdings Pty Ltd.

“We have to get legal advice about how do it correctly,” Cr Abbey said. 

“Removal will take some time to work through, but we’ve already commenced that process.

“He may be released and come back to Australia, but we would not want to be in business with him, even if he were innocent.

“We took him on based on good faith and conducted due diligence, but that good faith wasn't rewarded."

Cr Abbey said she had thought about and assessed the impact of the arrest on her role as mayor and on the council.

“It has no effect on council," she said. "The business has been approved and certified and is a good employer of local people."

She had done “absolutely nothing wrong ... At this stage, I don’t assess that I have brought any disrepute to council.

“Clearly, I remove myself from discussions or meetings in relation to the saleyards ...  or with Yass Industrial Park.

“Everything at council has been done accordingly and in full declaration of everything all along the way."

Cr Abbey emphasised that SELX would continue business operations as usual in the meantime: “There is no reason for them to close.

"Rohan Arnold is only one of a group of shareholders. He is not the majority by a long shot.

“These businesses will operate as they have operated, and they are good businesses,” she said.