Shock twists in ex-Lark Distilling CEO’s drug scandal

It’s been a week filled with sensational revelations in the drug scandal surrounding former Lark Distilling CEO Geoff Bainbridge.

Bainbridge resigned last week following the release of a video that allegedly showed him involved in drug use during a sex act. The Australian published explicit details and images from the video, which he said were part of an extortion attempt and pre-dated his appointment at Lark Distilling.

The board of Lark announced last Wednesday that Bainbridge had “tendered his resignation effective immediately to enable him to manage a personal matter … brought to the attention of the board”.

Bainbridge was the co-founder of burger chain Grill’d and previously held a senior position at Foster’s Group, now known as Carlton & United Breweries.

Bainbridge claimed to the Nine Network that he had a big night in Singapore in December 2015 after meeting a woman in a bar and others at a party.

He told The Age he had woken in an unfamiliar place in December 2015 to find two strange men showing him footage of him smoking ice from a glass pipe.

“I was just horrified. You are like, what else happened? What else don’t I remember? How am I going to explain this to anyone?” he said. “The reality for me is there is footage of me consuming class-A drugs in a foreign country. That has serious ramifications.”

He said he made 14 payments totalling $9000 following the extortion attempt.

However, the The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald have since removed the article that suggesting the multimillionaire was the victim of extortion, saying they have been “badly misled”.

The Age’s chief reporter, Chip Le Grand, wrote wrote in the Nine newspapers on Monday evening that the version of events Bainbridge gave him about the footage had been thrown into doubt.

Nine said its original reporting was based on documents supplied by Bainbridge, including records of financial transactions made in Philippine pesos to two separate bank accounts, purported extortion demands sent this year by text message from a Malaysian WhatsApp account and “a confidential report by Control Risks, a global risk consultancy, which analysed the purported extortion attempt and advised him how to respond”.

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, told Guardian Australia: “We believe we were badly misled and we question the veracity of the documents we received. We have retracted the story and written a follow-up that makes it clear that we believe we were misled. We will be putting a correction note in the newspaper tomorrow [Wednesday].”

The decision to remove the article followed the Herald Sun revealing on Sunday that it had received a tip-off from an “impeccable source” that included pictures from the inside of a house that resembled the room featured in the video.

“Bainbridge claimed he was in an apartment in Singapore after a wild night out in 2015, but the background of this now infamous video suggested otherwise,” the newspaper said.

“Some well-honed skills from years of stalking proved the picture of the house in our source’s email was in fact in Middle Park. It soon became apparent the fixtures and features, such as the unique light fitting, period shutters and split air conditioner, were identical.

“After finding more images of the Middle Park property on the website, it became obvious we’d seen through Bainbridge’s charade he peddled to the unsuspecting Age.

“Earlier in the week, The Australian broke the story about the businessman’s pipedream only for the other paper to counter with a so-called exclusive. Let’s call it a fairytale from Bainbridge in which he claimed to have been a victim of a crime by a woman he met in a bar six years ago. Middle Park is a long way from Asia.”

The Australian’s investigations writer, Sharri Markson, also reported on Monday that the bedroom the videos were filmed in has the same features as the one in the house where Bainbridge has lived for the past 18 months.

Markson said “he obviously recorded the drug-taking video in the inner-Melbourne house he bought in late 2020”.

The Australian also claimed in a separate article that the board of Lark Distilling was warned more than two years ago that Bainbridge may have had a drug problem. According to the newspaper, correspondence sent by the company’s major shareholder Chris Malcolm expressed concerns about potential drug use.

Lark told the newspaper it had been “made aware of new information that has been recently reported in the media”, but did not respond to specific questions on whether the board had acted on Malcolm’s letter.

The scandal hasn’t slowed Bainbridge down. The Australian reports he has a new venture in the works – Superfine Pizza.

“You’d think, for the time being, lying low in the US might be the strategy of choice for disgraced Lark Distillery boss and serial entrepreneur Geoff Bainbridge,” it said.

“But Margin Call hears the millionaire Grill’d founder, investor and methamphetamine user has a new hospitality venture in the works in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.”

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