Couple’s 30-year fight with bank
THIRTY years ago, Tony and Dot Rigg, of Nowra on the NSW south coast, were on top of the world.
They were living in a beautiful home with their children and had just built a house in Singapore, with a then-revolutionary steel frame, a project companies in 33 countries wanted to invest in.
Then, the Riggs walked into a Commonwealth Bank branch and signed up for a $750,000 loan.
In 1985, they signed a simulated foreign currency loan and agreed to pay five to six per cent interest to build their factory complex in Nowra.
What they didn't realise was they had signed up was in the middle of Australia's foreign currency loans scandal.
The loans were great at first, offering customers cheap interest rates in foreign currencies but when the Australian dollar plunged in 1985, the interest skyrocketed.
When Mr Riggs approached two lawyers with his loan documents, they calculated the Riggs were paying about 50 per cent interest on something they'd originally signed on to pay five per cent for.
The Riggs claim they were unaware of how badly the load could turn but the Commonwealth Bank has always maintained that everything was above board and the customers were aware of the risks.
Not long after they signed the loan, name on the loan was changed from the business to the Riggs themselves, which put them on the hook for the high interest repayments.
The Riggs' export company was successful - valued at more than a million dollars - but, profits aside, the interest became too much for the family to handle.
By 1991, the interest on their foreign currency loan became too much and the Riggs' factory at South Nowra Building World was taken by the bank.
In 2000, the Riggs and their four children were evicted from their family home and haven't been able to be property owners since.
The Riggs had decided to fight the Commonwealth Bank. They took the company all the way to the Supreme Court but lost everything, including the court case, in the process.
When they lost the case, the Riggs were told to apologise to the bank for allegations of fraud and ordered to pay $980,000 to the Commonwealth Bank.
The family, unable to pay the fee, instead declared bankruptcy and lost everything.
Mr Rigg declared his property a principality in a desperate bid to continue his legal fight against the bank, but the move didn't work.
In a statement to news.com.au, the Commonwealth Bank said it had resolved the issue.
"While we appreciate the Riggs feel very strongly about this, their dispute has been the subject of a number of legal actions dating back nearly 30 years, one of the most recent of which, in the Supreme Court of NSW in 2000, was aimed at finally resolving the issue," the statement said.
Since declaring bankruptcy, the Riggs have been living on their pension and getting help from their adult children.
"I'm a builder, boilermaker, roof plumber, I've done all sorts of trades but the consequences of all this is that we've lost our factories, lost our home and we've been bankrupted," Mr Rigg told news.com.au.
"We live in a rented house, we've got an old car, a few sticks of furniture but if you look at the evidence we would've been a major employer, exporter, joint venturer, you couldn't do better."
Last month, the Shoalhaven and Southern Highland Region, where Nowra is situated, topped the list of NSW's unemployment hot spots.
Nearly 30 per cent of people in those regions under the age of 24 are unable to find work, according to data from the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
"Everyone would've benefited from the wages we would've paid. It's the cost to community as well as us," Mr Riggs said.
"It's an absolute disgrace. The whole Shoalhaven area would've benefited from wages coming in and we would've brought millions into the local area."
But finally, after three decades of fighting and after losing everything, Mr Rigg might get his day in court.
He's one of the nearly 2000 people to submit evidence to the Banking Royal Commission and recently received an email saying he could potentially be called to testify - something Mr Rigg hopes will happen.
"Thousands of people have been totally destroyed. If I get called, I'll send shockwaves through this country," he said.
"If it's a proper royal commission, they should recommend to the DPP [Department of Public Prosecutions] that charges be laid."
Mr Rigg regularly refers to a letter written to him by the fraud squad - one of the more than 100 sets of documents he's listed as evidence on advocacy site Bank Victims.
"This is the fourth time you've written to the fraud squad," it reads.
"If you write again, we won't reply as the fraud squad doesn't have the criteria to investigate."
That isn't something that's never sat well with Mr Riggs.
"What would you do, if you had the evidence, would you sit back and do nothing?"
The Riggs have said they also received little help from the legal profession.
The stress of it all has taken a physical toll as well - especially on Mrs Rigg.
In 2012, she was fitted with a pacemaker after collapsing in a doctor's surgery.
"The cardiac fellow in Sydney called it broken heart syndrome," she said.
The couple have gone from having the world at their feet to "struggling every week on a pension".
But despite losing their home and business, it's the little things that hit the Riggs the hardest.
"One of the, and it might seem silly, little things that affect you is, when we first moved down here and we had young children and Tony's mum and dad would come down, they'd always take us out to dinner because we were starting off the business. They'd always treat us," Mrs Rigg said.
"When we'd go to the beach, Tony's dad would always buy the ice creams, now, we would love to do that for our grandchildren but we can't afford it."
The Riggs' children now send them on holidays for their anniversaries and birthdays and buy them Christmas presents.
"I can't even do charity work because I can't afford the petrol," Mrs Rigg said.
"All we ever wanted, like anyone, was a fair go. It's demoralising, intimidating and it just breaks your heart."