Always a mystery character, Ivan Markovics became more elusive than ever when inquiries were initiated into the whereabouts of perhaps millions of dollars paid by Australians and others for ‘knighthoods’ in his bogus order of the Knights of Malta.
The organisation’s own ambassador-at-large, Miroslav Sulc, gem dealer and former St Kilda club owner, went public to complain that there was no record of any of the money having been paid to any charity.
In a taped interview with the author, Sulc said it was obvious that many Australians, as well as others in Asia, America and Europe, had been duped into paying large sums of money in the name of charity in the mistaken belief they were receiving ‘knighthoods’ in recognition of community and charity work.
‘I really thought I was a legitimate knight,’ lamented Sulc. ‘So did other knights, including good people I had introduced to the order. I got my knighthood cheap after donating $2500. Others donated $5000 to $50,000. Where the donation money went, one can only guess. If it were an order registered in Australia, you could go to some authority to have the money traced, but all the money paid over by people in Australia has gone overseas. Nobody has seen any record of what charity any of it has gone to.’
As ambassador-at-large, Sulc had introduced 15 other people who had become ‘knights’ after making sizeable donations. He knew of another Victorian ‘Knight’ who had introduced at least another 15. ‘How many they might have introduced in turn I wouldn’t know,’ he said. ‘In a way, it became like a pyramid sales racket.’
Sulc estimated that money paid over by people he had introduced would have amounted to more than $50,000. He was aware of at least another $50,000 paid by other Victorians. ‘That is in excess of $100,000 I am aware of,’ he said. ‘How much else may have been involved is anybody’s guess.’ In Sydney and Queensland, where greater numbers of ‘knighthoods’ were handed out, the figures would have run to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Worldwide it would amount to millions of dollars.
Sulc said: ‘None of the money came to me, not a cent. Most of the people I introduced were friends and business clients. Some are now pretty annoyed with me. They, too, thought they were real knights. Since the expose on infiltration by mafia types, several have put all their regalia away, embarrassed to show anybody anymore.’
Sulc, a man in his mid-60s, acknowledged that he himself was something of a mystery man. He migrated to Australia from Czechoslovakia in 1949 and, after running clubs in Sydney and Melbourne, became involved in opal mining at Andamooka in South Australia and at Lightning Ridge in New South Wales. In latter times, he acted as a gem selling agent for an American company in Thailand.
A bundle of used up passports in his possession recorded more than 1000 overseas trips — to and from Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East. ‘I admit I have been no angel,’ he said. Twice I have been convicted of charges relating to allegations of fraud, but I maintain respect for the law. If the mafia can move in on an organisation using the name of the Knights of Malta, what’s next? Something should be done about it.’
In mysterious circumstances, a flat occupied by Sulc and his wife in Melbourne was shot at late in 1985. Five bullets narrowly missed his wife. Earlier, shots had been fired into his car. He suspected it was part of a vendetta after a falling out with former business associates. He fled Melbourne, alternating between an interstate hideaway and an apartment in Bangkok, Thailand.
As a frequent traveller, Sulc saw first hand how Knight of Malta passports were recognised by customs officials in many countries, especially in Asia and Europe. ‘In Italy, police salute you and wave you through,’ he said.
Two of his used passports had included the prefix ‘Sir’, since even the Australian Government had, for some time, recognised the Markovics organisation by endorsing its ‘knighthoods’ in that way. ‘Now they say they don’t recognise it at all,’ he explained. ‘They will now only recognise the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which the Vatican recognises.’ Markovics’s organisation called itself the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta.
Sulc revealed that Markovics had played a gigantic confidence trick on 23 donors who had flown to Rome for an elaborate investiture ceremony in December 1982.
All guests had stayed in a group at the exclusive Hotel Excelsior where they had been feted at a cocktail party and banquet. For the investiture they had been transported in a decorated bus to what a printed program described as the Basilica di S Nicola in Carcere, via del Teatro Marcello. Kneeling before an array of flags representing the Knights of Malta, United Nations and Italy, and an assembly of VIPs introduced as archbishops and priests, the donors had been ceremoniously knighted with a sword.
‘It was all so fantastic,’ Sulc said. ‘Only I have found out since that the basilica was actually a disused casino hired by Markovics and decorated for the occasion.’
The printed program also included a ‘Proposed Papal Audience, St Peter’s Square’ and donors wanting to meet the Pope were asked for an additional donation of $1500. There was no papal audience,’ Sulc said. When Markovics announced that the Pope was indisposed, the people had to be content with meeting somebody introduced as a papal representative, a cardinal.’
According to Sulc, when he paid Markovics $2500 to become a ‘knight’ he was told that it was to go to charity and it was suggested that it would be passed on to a charity approved by the Vatican.
When Sulc’s business associates in Thailand wanted to join, Markovics arranged for him to open an office in Bangkok, operating in conjunction with his gem dealing agency. Sulc was then designated ambassador to Thailand and Singapore and later ambassador-at-large. A more impressive ‘Knight of Malta’ passport was issued, proclaiming on its cover: Consular Service . . . Foreign Department, The Secretary of State, Rome, Italy.
Next, Markovics had made him a member, for free, of an organisation called the United Nations’ Association of the United States. The membership card displayed the emblem of the UN and of the USA, with a motto: working together for peace, freedom and justice.
For another $2500 Markovics arranged for Sulc to be made ‘special agent — Far East Affairs’ for an organisation called the Crime Prevention Bureau of Florida. The credentials included a police-type badge in a leather folder much like that carried by FBI agents. ‘I was in Markovics’s office in New York,’ recalled Sulc, ‘and he gave me a great spiel, saying I might be of assistance to authorities because I travelled so much throughout Asia. He picked up the phone and spoke to somebody, calling him “chief”. It sounded to me as if he rang direct to the chief of police. It all sounded impressive. I was told I would have to go to Miami for a special induction and swear on a Bible before I could be appointed. Once I handed over the $2500, which again Markovics said would go to charity, I was issued with the agent’s badge without having to go to Miami. I still don’t know if any “chief” was on the phone.’
Inquiries by the author in the United States established that the so-called police bureau was simply a private business name, akin to a private inquiry agency in Australia.
For yet another $2500, Markovics made Sulc a ‘Brother Knight’ in an organisation called Royal Knights of Justice. Under the motto, service to humanity, the passport-sized credentials proclaimed a royal protector: His Royal Highness, The Ezeukwu 1st of Ngwaukwu — The Ezeukwu’s Palace, Ahiaba Okuala Isiala, Imo State, Nigeria. Under the name of The Department of Foreign Affairs, Royal Knights of Justice, the passport asked all friendly nations and governments to grant to the bearer the respect and consideration that would help him in his worthy cause towards his service to humanity.
‘Of course,’ Sulc said, ‘I have seen no record of what charity that $2500 supposedly went to.’ All of the money he had paid over to Markovics had been in cash. Other people he had introduced had paid either in cash to Markovics or sent cheques to a bank in Sydney or Dallas.
When inquiries began into the whereabouts of donated money, Markovics could not be contacted. The telephone at an office he maintained for his ‘Knights of Malta’ organisation at the United Nations Plaza building in New York answered with a telephone company disconnection message. It was not unexpected. Markovics had actually moved in and taken over the office in the 1970s after a scandal in which the previous occupier had disappeared with more than a million dollars in donated funds.
from Connections 2 by Bob Bottom