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Rise and fall of high-flying Queensland operator

‘Take it on and think about it later’, was one of Fred Mohammed’s favourite business mottos at Crane Trucks R Us (CTRU).

But if you ask Robert Hudson, Mohammed’s former Townsville-based operations manager, that philosophy also had a lot to do with his ultimate downfall.

Hudson said Mohammed, who was jailed last month for three counts of fraud, simply got too big, too quick.

“My theory is that he was a medium-sized transport company doing pretty good for himself, then he got a contract with Holcim that he made big promises with,” said Hudson.

“He financed a lot of gear to get the trucks required for that job, and he never fulfilled his promises because there was always bad blood between the company and Holcim in Brisbane.

Hudson is more qualified than most to reveal how Mohammed’s meteoric rise came unstuck.

Mohammed was feted by the industry and won several awards.

Hired in 2013 as a yard driver in Brisbane, Hudson quickly worked his way up the ranks to be promoted to Townsville depot manager a year later, about the same time CTRU picked up the Holcim contract.

Hudson had a staff of 13 under him, with eight trucks and 10 trailers working overtime to meet Holcim’s needs – and a slew of outside jobs he brought in – across a massive chunk of Far North Queensland.

Then, slowly but surely the cracks started to show, always over money, which Hudson believes could be traced back to CTRU failing to build in demurrage (load waiting time) into its contract with Holcim.

“The contract was so poorly put together and under-quoted,” said Hudson.

He said the cash-flow shortage was then further compounded when CTRU took on more work helping to build Sydney and Melbourne tunnels.

Hudson suddenly found himself short on equipment, and fielding an increasing number of calls from local creditors, from the depot landlord to skip supplier who stopped its regular pick-up because head office hadn’t paid the bill.

One of the lowest points for Hudson was the day he took a trailer into Bridgestone for a new set of tyres only to have to return a week later to have the tyres removed again because CRTU couldn’t pay.

Hudson knew the writing was finally on the wall the day in 2015 when he got an email out of the blue from HQ to tell him all CTRU employees were now considered casual workers rather than fulltime employees and didn’t receive any of their legally required entitlements.

It was not long after that he received another email saying CTRU had collapsed, and he was no longer required, along with an estimated 45 to 50 other employees.

“That was on a Friday, then on the following Monday I got another email saying, ‘Oh Rob, can you take a couple of trucks to the auction yard and can you organise for the rest of the trucks to come down to Brisbane?” Hudson recalled.

“So, me being a stupid boy, I got them into the auction yard, then me and one of the other drivers took the other equipment down [to Brisbane].

“When I got there Fred said I have another plan and he asked me to come and work for him, but I said no, I’d made other arrangements.

“I wasn’t going to go back after what I went through with them.”

Crane Trucks R U boasted more than 200 pieces of equipment across several depots.

Big Rigs first broke the story of Crane Trucks R Us heading for liquidation in 2015 when employees claimed they had not been paid their full entitlements.

Mohammed, also known as Farmouz Farhaad Mohammed, told Big Rigs at the time that his company failed because multinational giant Holcim terminated a $10 million contract part-way through a two-year deal.

A spokesman for Holcim denied the company owed money to Crane Trucks R Us.

Although relieved that Mohammed finally had his day in court in Ipswich last month when a jury found him guilty of three counts of fraud and a judge sentenced him to two and a half years, Hudson is angry that his former boss will only serve six months for his crimes.

“What amazes me is that CTRU collapsed in 2015, then he starts up Tranz Logistics. Where did he get the money to start up another company?”

A statement from ASIC said investigators found Mohammed had, on three separate occasions, dishonestly withdrawn funds from the CTRU company account.

“The withdrawal of the funds occurred around 10 weeks before Crane Trucks R Us was placed in liquidation and was most likely insolvent,” the statement said.

“At the time Crane Trucks R Us was placed in liquidation it had total liabilities of $6,266,394.69 owed to 198 creditors.”

When Big Rigs queried the time lag between the demise of CTRU and Mohammed’s conviction, and how Mohammed was still able to helm a new company in the interim, ASIC told us Tranz Logistics was registered in September 2015, two months before liquidators were appointed to CTRU.

An official investigation didn’t begin until after the liquidator’s report was finalised in mid-2016.

ASIC also reminded us that as a consequence of Mohammed’s conviction, the disgraced director is automatically disqualified from managing corporations until December 10, 2026.

Again, that’s small solace to Hudson who watched Mohammed remodel his Brisbane office with marble bench tops shortly before CTRU collapsed, and build a shed inside his workshop to house all his ‘toys’, which included a Range Rover with the rego plate CRUPTED.

“It sort of sends this message that if you want to steal millions of dollars , or a lot of money, go and do because you’re only going do six months in a straight bar hotel and live life large again.”

Hudson says he’s semi-retired now at 58, and has no desire to go back to the industry after working for CTRU.

“As a driver you don’t get to see what goes on behind the closed door in the office; they give you the job and you go out and do it.

“But I got to see the other side with a corrupt player, and it’s soured me on the whole industry.”

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