No wonder Dubbo has gone downhill lately mata.Â Rorque Poisson, general manager of the promoter Grow Dubbo ... unbowed by the inconsistencies revealed in his claimed qualifications. An enigmatic South African businessman has big plans for the regional city, writes investigative reporter Nick O'Malley. Rorque Poisson is a fast-talking businessman hired to breathe new life into Dubbo, the western city of 40,000 battling the confounding combination of financial crisis, drought and the endless drift of its youth to Sydney, a full six hours drive to the east. As the general manager of Grow Dubbo, a company set up by the council to attract new investment, Poisson earns four times the mayor's salary. The trouble is, nothing about Poisson's past quite stacks up. The South African businessman first appeared in Sydney in the mid-1990s, when with a handshake in the pool at Manly Tennis Club with tennis great John Alexander, Poisson made a deal to help develop "JA" clubs throughout NSW. The relationship ended quickly and unhappily. Each says he was the first to pull the plug. The rugby league star, Phil Blake, also has bitter memories of business with Poisson. He invested $100,000 in Poisson's software company, USCO, which later failed. "You put pressure on the bloke and he just moves on," Blake says. A Mosman travel agent, Frank Morris, says he lost more than $100,000 to the same company, only to prop up the enterprise with personal loans to Poisson. These men are just "disgruntled shareholders" of legitimate failed businesses, Poisson says. Four other Poisson companies have been deregistered - Racebo, Bactron Holdings, Fav's Marine and Vehicle Repair and Growwin Pty Ltd. "They are all start-ups. They never got going. They never operated. If you talk to anybody in start-ups Ã¢Â€Â¦ a bloke I met the other day has over 200," Poisson says. Yet another company he was involved in, Telco, was liquidated. Poisson denies this suggests a poor business record. Next Poisson moved north and became a Kleenmaid franchisee. In his job application to Grow Dubbo, he boasts of sponsoring the local netball team through the Central Coast Academy of Sport. "This gave me the opportunity to tap into their member databases via their CEO." The academy's managing director, Ian Robilliard, recalls things differently. He says Poisson signed on to be a sponsor, made himself available for the media announcement, but never paid the $6000, which the academy eventually extracted from Kleenmaid's head office. Poisson denies this. He says he never had the authority to sign sponsorship cheques and was embarrassed that head office had taken so long to pay up. Kleenmaid has since collapsed. Poisson later made contact with the Australian beach volleyball gold medallist Natalie Cook. In his Grow Dubbo application, Poisson writes that he became her manager. Ms Cook flatly denies it. Poisson says Cook must "have a short memory". There are other inconsistencies in Poisson's application to Grow Dubbo. He claims to have been awarded a master of business administration by Midrand University in South Africa in 1995, but the Herald can find no record of such an institution and nor can Higher Education South Africa. Poisson says he was not referring to the Midrand Graduate Institute, which does not offer MBAs. Poisson remains unbowed when all this is put to him. "It's got nothing to do with anybody else except the board [of Grow Dubbo] and myself. It's my business, it's not your business." Would Poisson's failure to prove he did not falsify his qualifications interest the chairman of the board, Bill Kelly? "I'm not at all concerned," says Kelly. He says the MBA was not a prerequisite for the job. Nor is he concerned by Poisson's business history, his apparent conflict with Natalie Cook or the litany of inconsistencies in Poisson's report to the council on Grow Dubbo's activities. According to this document, lodged in December, Poisson's chief achievement was to attract 80 jobs by helping TrackForce, a job placement firm, establish itself. He backs his claim with a letter by that company's former office manager, Leanne Vernon. Vernon told the Herald she was directed to write the letter, she knew it was wrong, she regretted writing it and she was relieved she had quit the company. Poisson claims to have been in talks with the warehouse retailing chain Costco about opening in Dubbo. Not true, says a Costco spokeswoman. He says he has been in talks with the Aldi supermarket chain about building a distribution centre in Dubbo. An Aldi spokeswoman says the company recently built a depot at Prospect and has no such plans for Dubbo. The same story unfolds about claims Poisson made to the council about talks with companies including JB HiFi, Reed Communications and Union Shopper. None of this concerns Kelly. "I joined the board in January and he was employed before that," he says. "I've been through the minutes of our board meetings from the point where he was employed and there is nothing that indicates to me that anything is untoward." In fact Kelly, who rents a home to Poisson, is so keen to support him that when councillors started asking questions during council meetings, he brought a lawyer into the chamber, and according to one councillor, threatened to sue them. The councillor, Tina Reynolds, says Kelly told her she had no right to question any of Grow Dubbo's activities because it was a private company. But Grow Dubbo is entirely funded - $300,000 a year - by the council. The city's Mayor, Greg Matthews, a councillor and the council's general manager sit on the board. It's with the Mayor that the story takes us to Jim Foo, the conman now serving 6Ã‚Â½ years in Singapore for cheating two friends out of $1.3 million. Foo came to Australia in 1994. He soon won the confidence of politicians, including the former immigration minister Phillip Ruddock. He turned up in Dubbo selling the dream of a $60 million five-star resort and luxury housing complex and an international airport. Grow Dubbo's corporate parent, the Dubbo City Development Corporation, supplied support and cash. It ended in 2003 when Foo disappeared, only to end up in immigration detention. According to three reports in the local press, Matthews signed a character reference for Foo's failed appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal - endorsed by 30 other local business personalities - describing Foo as "honest and honourable". Matthews denies this but the tribunal's record says "signatories of the petition include the Mayor of Dubbo". Matthews's first term as mayor was from September 2002 to April 2004. Clearly, many saw character as less important than the chance that Foo's scheme might work. Some on the sidelines in Dubbo believe Poisson enjoys support for the same reason. Matthews says he has not seen enough evidence to damn Poisson. Kelly won't be swayed, either. "We think he is a breath of fresh air in this place, quite frankly." And despite all the awkward questions, Poisson is certain he is doing a heck of job. ""We've done a lot of good stuff, we've got a lot of projects on the go, we've managed to get expressions of interest from two major retail organisations in writing." Can we see them? "No. It's confidential."