“There is a substantial mismatch in the headlines,” says one of Bonett’s former executives, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bonett arrived at Prezzee in 2015, buying into the e-gift card company founded by Claire Morris and Matt Hoggett. Through an app, Prezzee allows customers to buy gift cards for retailers from Amazon and Apple to David Jones. Despite big claims, the company has only filed one set of accounts. Earlier this year, The Australian Financial Review reported Prezzee lost nearly $40 million in 2022. No accounts for last year were filed.

The company blamed accounting changes for the results and said a “secretarial oversight related to changing our year-end” for disclosing in filings that directors had not been able to pass a solvency resolution. Prezzee has yet to file any documents showing it had since passed a solvency resolution.

Bonett has used his social media accounts to spruik the company’s “unicorn status”, a valuation of more than $1 billion. That figure comes not from a share sale, but from investment bank Morgan Stanley, provided as part of a pitch to float the business in 2021, a period when valuations for technology firms were sky-high. (Morgan Stanley’s then-head of real estate investment banking, Craig Smith, is now Prezzee’s chief operating officer.)

Michelle Deaker, a prominent venture capitalist and the managing director of OneVentures, says that by 2023, start-up valuations had fallen back to 2016 levels. Valuations based on revenue had dropped “30 to 50 per cent off the highs we saw in 2021,” she says.

Deaker is not talking specifically about Prezzee. But the point stands. She says many start-ups have been trying to grow back into their 2021 valuations. Only “tier one” companies with excellent growth and unit economics are attracting enough interest to see their values rise.

One peer, ASX-listed gift card and transaction services group EML Payments, had a market capitalisation of more than $2 billion in 2021. It is valued at $380 million, even after a 40 per cent share rise this year.

Asked about whether the company was still worth this figure, a spokesperson for Bonett said: “Morgan Stanley did its valuation work independently, and you should speak with them”.

Then there’s the question of Prezzee’s ownership. Bonett says he owns 86 per cent of the company through a family trust, one of the reasons that he is considered a billionaire. His spokesman told AFR Weekend that “no other party has a beneficial interest” in the Bonett Family Trust, which holds the Prezzee investment.


But people familiar with the matter say Bonett, in 2020, sold a number of investors the right to own shares in Prezzee if it went public or was sold. Under the arrangement, Bonett’s companies hold these shares and have the legal title to them on trust for the beneficiaries. But Precision must then transfer the title to the shares to the beneficiaries ahead of an initial public offering or ahead of a trade sale – neither of which have occurred.

Over the years, Prezzee’s executives have talked up its prospects. Some 18 months ago, the company’s former chief executive, Jamie Samaha, said the business had high hopes in the United Kingdom and Europe, and said Prezzee was profitable and hiring staff.

“We have a strong balance sheet, we are fully funded and still growing and putting on people. Their jobs are safe, so that becomes very attractive,” he said at the time.

Now, he is gone.

A former Mastercard executive, Samaha left Prezzee last year, forcing Bonett to take over as chief executive while Antony Karp, its former CEO, returned as president, North America. Samaha is one of nearly a dozen senior figures to leave Prezzee in the past 18 months, including the heads of human resources in Australia and the United States, where the company focused its efforts.

The company also lost a chief financial officer, chief digital officer, chief commercial officer, chief marketing officer, its Australian managing director and the president of its US operation. “With constant changes of leadership things went off the rails,” one former employee says of the staff exodus.

“Most of the staff you have listed either did not report to Mr Bonett or have any day-to-day dealings with him, or were contractors who were employed for fixed periods of time,” a spokesman for Bonett said in response to questions about the departures.

Shaun Bonett’s rise up the rich list has been well documented. At 18, he had saved enough for a deposit for a house in the affluent Adelaide suburb of Unley. He fell in with Ross Makris, the son of property magnate Con Makris, buying up the suburban Gawler Village shopping centre, then the Adelaide Central Plaza.


One part of the story that did not make The Statesman, or CEO Magazine, was Bonett’s time at Phillips Fox. According to a 2004 complaint, Bonett allegedly intimidated and exploited a client from whom he had also purchased antiques. “Mr Bonett told me I should ‘watch out’. I took this to be a threat and hung up the phone,” the client told a tribunal. Bonett nevertheless admitted to unprofessional conduct in failing to tell his firm he was helping the woman – who withdrew the allegations.

Ross Makris and Bonett were self-described “best friends”. That relationship also fell apart, for reasons neither party wanted to discuss at the time. The only thing Con Makris would say about the matter, when asked by BRW, was: “I have a long memory.”

Ross Makris in 2009. The businessman worked closely with Bonett. 

Still, Bonett’s property empire flourished. Precision owns MacArthur Central and Chevron Renaissance in Brisbane and Pran Central in Melbourne. In Adelaide, it still controls Adelaide Central Plaza, and has added Port Adelaide Plaza.

Precision, which holds the property portfolio, also does not publicly report its financials. Bonett has previously said the firm owns more than $1 billion of commercial assets in Australia.

What else has flourished is the company’s debts. Bonett has said the Chinese state bank had lent hundreds of millions to the company and appeared to endorse a figure of around $500 million in 2012 by reposting articles that mentioned this number on his company’s website.

Chevron Renaissance and MacArthur Central show mortgages to the Bank of China, while Adelaide Central Plaza also has a mortgage registered to the Bank of China, according to publicly available records. A former Bank of China official even sits on Precision’s board, as well as sitting on the board of holding companies related to the company’s portfolio properties.

A spokesman for Bonett disputed some of the mortgage records and said Chevron Renaissance and MacArthur Central were mortgaged to ING and ANZ. “The current facility with the Bank of China is significantly less than the $500 million figure,” he said. “Mr Bonett has diverse interests across several sectors … all involving various banking relationships.”

Bonett has also secured loans for his cars, including a Mercedes-Benz G Class, against Precision. Other loans with the Bank of China are secured against companies associated with Bonett.


And for all of his charitable endeavours, Bonett’s private foundation, known as HeartFelt, did not make a single donation in the 12 months to June 30, according to disclosures to the country’s charities regulator.

But Shaun Bonett’s empire sprawls beyond Precision and Prezzee. Some of those investments have been quite profitable for his other businesses.

Bonett was, for a long period, a director of iSelect, the one-time ASX-listed insurance comparison platform that delisted in 2022. As a listed company before being acquired by the owner of its nearest rival, Compare the Market, iSelect performed poorly. Even so, in its last year on the ASX, it paid Prezzee some $1.38 million for “customer and staff incentives”. iSelect even took out a five-year lease with Precision to rent space at four shopping centres.

Bonett in 2006, when he was photographed for the BRW Young Rich List. Paul Jones

Bonett has also provided Litigation Lending, a class action funder backed by John B. Fairfax and former National Australia Bank executive Andrew Hagger where he was once chief executive and remains a shareholder, with a $30 million loan facility which charges 10 per cent interest. That equated to $1.6 million in interest and fees in the past financial year.

“The transactions involving Mr Bonett’s related companies are fully disclosed in compliance with corporate governance standards,” his spokesman said. “Mr Bonett recuses himself from the decision-making processes for any … that might constitute a conflict of interest.”

Bonett has put plenty of material on the public record. In an interview with the Financial Review this year, he was even happy to discuss how difficult his early education at Adelaide’s prestigious Saint Ignatius’ College had been.

“They actually got some people to assess me and said, well, you’ve put your son into year 4, and he should be in year 6,” he said then.

The public record, however, may be more fraught than it appears.

Wikipedia’s editors have previously accused Precision of using a “nest” of paid contractors to manage Bonett’s pages, some of which have been banned. “[There has been a] long-term effort by Precision Group to abuse the public-good mission of Wikipedia for promotion,” one Wikipedia editor, Jytdog, alleged.

Bonett’s spokesman, however, said Precision “employs a team to manage their extensive online presence,” who are committed to transparency and accuracy. “The discussions and edits on Wikipedia concerning Precision have been handled with utmost respect for Wikipedia’s guidelines,” he said. “The accusation of using banned contractors is unfounded and was resolved with Wikipedia’s editorial community.”