Your weekend Firepower update

Gerard Ryle recaps the Firepower story in light of Tim Johnston's sudden loquaciousness in court.

Oh, and it turns out that Tim's Vladimir Putin Number is, at most, two.

(If Mr Putin himself turns out to have invested even one thin rouble in Firepower, I don't think it's likely that any other creditors, no matter how destitute, will object to Vlad getting paid back before them.)

This fuel pill for sure, Rocky!

I'll try to keep this brief.

A reader has brought the melodiously-titled "Shot In The Gas" to my attention.

Shot In The Gas sell fuel additives - pills, and a liquid - which are, for the usual highly implausible reasons, supposed to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, et cetera.

And, also as usual, these additives are supposed to work in both petrol and diesel engines, despite the large difference in operational principles.

Shot In The Gas's "Test Reports" page tells us that a truck achieved a massive 56% fuel-economy improvement when its fuel was treated with their liquid additive.

They say the truck was driven by a man called Brian.

And that's about all they say, as far as information about how well the test was controlled goes.

(There is, of course, also a page of testimonials. I don't see why they didn't put all of those on the Test Reports page, since they're all equally untraceable, and equally don't even pretend to be a properly controlled test.)

Apparently Shot In The Gas's products "have been tested for millions of driven miles" (emphasis theirs). But, as usual, nobody has at any point done any proper independent rolling-road, or even ad-hoc blinded, tests.

Such tests could unlock literally billions of dollars a year of income for whichever of the dozens, if not hundreds, of these miracle-fuel-additive companies actually turns out to be telling the truth.

But none of them ever do the tests.

The USA alone consumes about 380 million gallons of gasoline per day. That adds up to about a billion US dollars per day, even at the USA's low petrol prices, a bit more than $US2.50 per gallon at the moment.

If some miracle fuel additive reduced this consumption by a mere ten per cent, it'd be saving about a hundred million dollars a day, or around thirty-five billion US dollars per year.

(And this is just in the USA, and just gasoline. World petrol plus diesel consumption is of course quite a lot higher.)

But wait - Shot In The Gas have an explanation!

"This is not new technology. It has been around for 30 to 40 years". But "it wasn't cost effective to use the product until gasoline reached $2.00 a gallon".

Oooh, nice dodge!

Except... petrol has cost more than $US2 a gallon in most of the civilised world for, oh, a decade or three, right? I think petrol prices in the UK have, if you correct for inflation, never been below two US dollars per gallon. They've definitely almost never been below two inflation-adjusted UK pounds per gallon (PDF).

So even if Shot In The Gas hadn't been around to make a mountain of money in Europe for the last "30 to 40 years", one would presume someone would have.



Your worthless fuel pills, or your life!

Nothing much was going on in the riveting Firepower imbroglio, until yesterday.

Before then, the wife of Firepower former-business-partner Warren Anderson said he attacked her, during an argument about a missing computer (there do indeed seem to be a lot of missing computers in this story...). She hauled Warren into court to face those charges, and then he said he didn't do it. Whoopee.

Now, though, Tim Johnston has said that Firepower - uh, well, the Firepower company that was selling possibly-illegal shares to Australian investors, anyway - never actually owned the intellectual rights to their products. See, it was one of the several other Firepower companies that owned the IP rights. That other company was run by a guy called Trevor Nairn, and Tim says he wouldn't give up the rights.

So, according to Tim, the abovementioned Warren Anderson rounded up some blokes to remonstrate with Mr Nairn, by taking him on one of those stimulating little day-trips that involve one or more large gentlemen with weapons, one unwilling participant, a shovel, and an isolated area.

You may have seen this procedure in a movie.

(If you haven't, allow me to recommend "The Magician"!)

Mr Nairn says that nothing of the sort ever happened.

This is all almost as mystifying to me as Mr Nairn says it is to him, since the Firepower fuel additives, just like the umpteen other such additives hucksters have sold over the years - and including of course the other additives that Tim Johnston himself previously sold in New Zealand - were and are completely worthless.

(Well, either that, or the people selling these things invariably try really really hard to make all of their "supporting evidence" look like a crock of crap. A product that did what their countless products are always said to do would be worth billions of dollars a year, but they never bother to take a lazy week to properly prove their claims and thus uncork the money-fountain.)

Who gives a damn if you've got the world rights to manufacture your placebo? Just make a new one, to a different formula, and go on with your upstanding legitimate business. No grave-digging, real or fictional, required!

Perhaps Johnston is just still trying to keep up the front that he believes his products actually work, and it's all a giant conspiracy by the oil companies and the Freemasons and Jehovah to make him look bad, or something.

It would still, of course, be simplicity itself to hand a couple of packs of Firepower pills - I think whoever's currently sitting on the cardboard box containing Firepower's surviving assets might be persuaded to give 'em up - to one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of organisations in Australia who could see if the claims were true.

I'll hold my breath for that, if you will!

Welcome back to Year 1 of the thrilling Firepower hearing

I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath to see what's happened since my last Firepower update.

Well, for one thing, Gerard Ryles' unassumingly-titled book about Firepower is now searchable on Google Books.

And Tim Johnston, the elusive boss of Firepower, has apparently been blessed with a complete remission of his travel-preventing illness. (Apparently, if you get arrested, it clears right up!)

Tim has duly been frogmarched into a hearing in Perth, to answer a few questions.

According to Tim, he's pulling down ten thousand UK pounds a month for "consultancy" work for Green Power Corporation, the London-based reincarnation of Firepower that will repay all of the investors and actually have products that work and give every child in the world an adorable puppy and so on.

(You may recall Green Power Corporation, and its unimpeachable principal Frank Timis, from last year. You may also recall The Australian's description of Timis as "a colourful Romanian-Australian businessman". Everybody involved with Firepower is so darn colourful it's like some kind of Pride Parade.)

Tim Johnston also alleges that he has been assaulted, and his daughter intimidated (by "cars driving around her house"), since he started giving evidence to the hearing. According to Tim, the people menacing him now are associated with his former business partner, one Warren Anderson.

Anderson has previously denied making any threats, and I presume will also deny sending the boys round (and round, and round). According to Johnston, Anderson demanded many millions of dollars of Firepower money with menaces; according to Anderson, that money was just payment for shares in Firepower, which Tim was buying from Warren, or something. (According to the ancient fuel-pill-company template, the shares probably weren't legal to sell in the first place, but were nonetheless hungrily snapped up by numerous people who now find themselves without a nest-egg.)

Oh, and Tim says that the fact that Warren pitched in to help Tim buy an 8.5-million-dollar house one day after Tim gave Warren four million dollars is not fishy in any way.

Hmm, what else... Oh yeah: "Firepower spent millions on travel, hotels and sponsorship". Astonishingly, the recipients of the free air tickets included Tim's kids.

And Tim also, in a completely straightforward and non-fishy way, handed an extra two million dollars and a hatful of soon-to-be-worthless shares, on top of a settlement payment, to the former chief executive officer of one of the numerous Firepower entities after some sort of court dispute.

After revealing this, Tim suddenly found himself struck by that most terrible of afflictions, Courtroom-Related Amnesia Syndrome, regarding exactly how the various Firepower business entities interacted. The syndrome is following its usual course; the larger the amount of money involved, the more difficult the sufferer finds it to remember where it went.

According to Tim, Firepower also appeared to have a less-than-thorough data backup policy. A server containing vital information was in someone's house, and then may have been pawned, perhaps, but Tim's not sure, his Courtroom-Related Amnesia Syndrome's playing up again...

We can only pray that Tim's illness does not develop into full-blown Ashcroft-Gonzales' Disease.

Criminals? In MY fuel-pill company?

In accordance with Gerard Ryle's fearless prediction, a new Sydney Morning Herald story by... Gerard Ryle... has added another colourful business identity to the ongoing Firepower fiasco.

This one is obviously going to run and run. If you found the 2008 US Presidential campaigns to be far too full of intelligent nuance and over much to soon, I'm sure you'll be delighted by this Firepower court case, and then the next one, and then the one after that...

"My client's too ill to come. And he's delusional. And, um, he doesn't exist!"

Recent developments in the soap opera that is legal authorities' attempts to get Firepower principal Tim Johnston to show up in court:

Firepower boss avoids night in jail, despite a warrant for his arrest having indeed been issued. "Our client has every intention to voluntarily appear before court on Friday", says his lawyer.

Firepower boss delusional, court told ("I'm sorry, m'lud, but it's entirely impossible for my client to attend these proceedings. He's hopelessly delusional, don't you know. The man actually believes himself to be innocent.")

Oh, and one Geoff McDonald, erstwhile spokesdude for Firepower's liquidators, has himself been struck off for two years over a conflict of interest.

I presume there's somebody, somewhere in the world, who had a business relationship with Firepower and wasn't in some way crooked. But I don't, off the top of my head, know who that somebody might be.

UPDATE: Tim's (finally) been arrested.

Now you see Tim, now you don't

If you read my last little piece about the delectable Tim Johnston, instigator of the Firepower magic-fuel-pill scam, and kept reloading it to keep up with the couple of updates, you would know:

1: For some reason, Tim came back to Australia, under his own name.
2: The authorities immediately took his passport away.
3: He went to court to ask for his passport back, so he could "travel for business purposes", whereupon...
4: ...the Firepower liquidators served him with papers ordering him to appear at a Federal-court civil hearing launched by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which body has been following Tim around for a while now, bolting each door behind him after he has galloped through.

Perhaps we'll eventually know why it was that Tim came back under his own name and then decided to appear in public to try to get his passport back; on the surface, these seem to be the actions of a crazy man. But it would appear that he's had another moment of clarity, because now he's decided to not turn up at the hearing.

(On the grounds that he's suddenly too ill to travel, which isn't very original.)

Johnston is also apparently headed for personal bankruptcy, an event that punctuates the lives of entrepreneurial scam artists with metronomic regularity.

But I like these weird, unexplained deviations from the standard scam-artist script that Johnston keeps coming up with. I wonder what he'll do next?

UPDATE: The liquidator has now applied for an arrest warrant, to encourage the suddenly-taken-ill Johnston to actually turn up in court. Oh, and apparently Mr Johnston is currently being legally represented by a man who says he's a lawyer, but does not appear to actually be one. I wonder what qualifications the doctor who wrote Johnston's sick note will turn out to have?

In a further shocking development, some bloke who gave Tim $450,000 and was "confident he would get a good return" is now a bit upset. This guy made his "investment" in 2007. I could see that Firepower was obviously a scam in 2006, and Gerard Ryle's first Sydney Morning Herald feature story about Firepower, which explained just how loudly the whole operation screamed "scam", came out at the very beginning of '07.

I can kind of understand the "mum and dad" investors who sink their life savings of $5000 or so into some charlatan's scheme without looking into it adequately. But what kind of person who doesn't own his own Middle Eastern nation would invest almost half a million bucks in something that five minutes with Google would show him is very similar to a long line of previous products, some sold by the same guy who's selling this newest one, that all turned out to be scams?

Ronnie Biggs waited until he was 71

As a number of readers, Gerard Ryle's blog and my saved Google News search have informed me, Tim Johnston, former proprietor of the dramatically-failed magic-fuel-pill pseudo-company Firepower, recently flew back into Australia.

I am not alone in being entirely unable to figure out why he did this. Tim was quite successfully hiding from his creditors overseas, but then decided to waltz back into the country using his own passport. ASIC then told all of the airports to not let him out again. And then he surrendered his passport. But then, last night, he went for a little drive, evading process servers.

Don't worry - I'm sure we'll catch him soon. I mean, it's not as if there are many places to hide around here.

UPDATE: And now we hear that Johnston allegedly used a forged letter from ASIC to assure potential investors that he was not in fact being investigated, and had only fled to London for a holiday, or something. Which is kind of like discovering that John Dillinger was also guilty of failing to pay his council rates, but the more charges the merrier, I suppose.

UPDATE 2: The process servers managed to locate Tim and give him the order to appear at a civil hearing, which the Firepower liquidator hopes will lead to criminal charges. He actually turned out to be pretty easy to find, because he obligingly turned up in another court to ask for his passport back.