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Nugan, Francis John (1942–1980)

by Frank Farrell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Francis John Nugan (1942-1980), lawyer and merchant banker, was born on 30 December 1942 at Griffith, New South Wales, younger twin and third child of German-born parents Alfredo Mariano Nugan (Neugarten), fruit packer, and his second wife Anna Lisa, née Meinhardt. Alfredo had taken Spanish nationality and had arrived in Melbourne in the Strathnaver on 13 August 1939 with his wife and the son of his first marriage. Settling at Griffith, he established a small packing company in 1941 and was naturalized in 1945. Frank attended Griffith High School, the University of Sydney (LL.B., 1964) and the University of California at Berkeley (LL.M., 1965), United States of America. After spending some years in Canada, he returned to Sydney in 1968. He was admitted as a solicitor on 22 November and set up practice. In New York on 23 May 1970 he married Charlotte Lee Sofge, who came from Tennessee.

That year Nugan was involved, as a director (1970-72), in floating Meekatharra Minerals N.L. to mine nickel, cobalt and copper in Western Australia; its shares rose to $6.90 then fell sharply. With a New Yorker named Michael Hand, Nugan engaged in land-deals and share-trading. In 1973 they set up a merchant bank, Nugan Hand Ltd, with a nominal paid-up capital of $1 million. Between 1976 and 1979 'turnover' reportedly rose from $30 million to $1000 million; the bank opened offices to accept deposits in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Cayman Islands and Saudi Arabia. Dynamic and assertive, Nugan was disorganized in the way he worked. Using the bank's reserves, he acquired the Orange Spot 'fruit juice concern' in Sydney and a substantial residence at Vaucluse. He was 'a heavy whisky drinker'. Despite the 'aura of . . . success' that surrounded him, 'his wealth was illusory'.

Meanwhile, his elder brother Kenneth had expanded their father's firm, the Nugan Group Ltd, into one of Australia's largest fruit and vegetable distributors; Frank was one of its directors. In 1978 he, Ken and others were charged with conspiracy to defraud the Nugan Group. Frank became preoccupied with the criminal proceedings and 'funded the defence of the charges by simply milking funds of Nugan Hand'.

On Sunday 27 January 1980 Frank Nugan's body was found at 4.20 a.m. in his Mercedes Benz at Forty Bends Road, Bowenfels. According to press reports he had a bullet wound to the head. A coroner's inquest recorded that he had died 'of the effects of a gunshot wound, self-inflicted and with the intention of taking his own life'. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, he was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. Subsequently, a reported sighting of Frank in a bistro at Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., led to speculation that a drug dealer was buried in his grave. Nugan's body was exhumed, and a second inquest, held in March 1981, confirmed the earlier findings on the basis of dental evidence.

The Nugan Hand bank had become the centre of media attention, with spiralling allegations of international conspiracy, tax evasion, bribery, arms dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering, and links with the Central Intelligence Agency. The bank went into receivership in April 1980 and was investigated by the Commonwealth-New South Wales Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking. Hampered by deliberate obfuscation of records and the flight of Hand, the Corporate Affairs Commission reported in 1983 that Frank Nugan had been 'involved in massive international and local fraud' and had deliberately falsified the bank's accounts to conceal debt. The royal commission of inquiry (1983-85) into the activities of the Nugan Hand Group uncovered little new information.

Select Bibliography

  • Commonweallth-New South Wales Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking, Report, vols 2, 4, Nugan Hand (Canb, 1982, 1983)
  • New South Wales Corporate Affairs Commission, Sixth and Seventh Interim Reports on the Affairs of Nugan Hand Ltd and Other Companies (Syd, 1983)
  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of the Nugan Hand Group, Interim Report, 1983, 1984, Final Report, 1985 (Canb)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28, 30 May 1978, 29 Jan, 3, 6, 28 May, 31 Aug, 25-27, 29 Sept, 1 Nov 1980, 1-4, 6, 7, 10 Feb, 6, 25 Mar, 22 Apr 1981
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 3 Feb, 27 Apr, 15 June 1980, 1 Feb 1981
  • A. Nugan, naturalisation file A435/1, item 44/4/4235 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Nugan, Francis John (1942–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nugan-francis-john-11266/text20097, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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