Claims a woman who allegedly owes thousands of dollars from a Central Otago project has been involved in a similar venture in Russia have been denied.
Hana Fisherova, formerly of the Czech Republic and now living in Alexandra, said reports of her involvement in suspect monetary transactions dating back more than a decade were untrue.
Ms Fisherova, who is also known as Hana Demeterova, was behind a proposed eco-friendly tourist village in the hills near Clyde.
The project, called Happy Hills, painted a picture of healthy rejuvenation for mind, body and soul.
But behind the scenes lay claims of broken promises that have left people in Otago, as well as across New Zealand and Australia, out of pocket, some amounting to thousands of dollars.
When asked about a Russian media report about a similar venture, a ‘‘schools in nature’’ project, Ms Fisherova said it was untrue.
‘‘These newspapers are under the control of Russian secret services, FSB. They fabricated the article full of lies, but it is normal in Russia,’’ she said.
Ms Fisherova arrived in New Zealand in about September 2017, first living in Christchurch.
In 2018 the Otago Daily Times reported she was looking for land to start a therapeutic retreat.
Another ODT story then said she was seeking a management team to develop a wellness retreat in Central Otago.
The News reported in April last year Ms Fisherova was inviting Central Otago residents to take part in a crowd-funded venture to build a therapeutic centre and sustainable farm on 1142ha in the Cairnmuir Mountains, overlooking Lake Dunstan.
Nigel Murray, of Clyde, was introduced to Ms Fisherova by a friend in the construction industry in 2018, who said she was looking for someone to help turn her idea into reality.
A website, happyhills.nz, had been set up and Ms Fisherova sought help from Mr Murray to be project coordinator for the scheme.
Mr Murray said although the website seemed comprehensive, it began to become apparent the project was more of an ‘‘idea’’ than anything concrete.
As it progressed, he became more concerned about the way Ms Fisherova behaved.
Instead of operating through a company, accounts were handled personally by Ms Fisherova, and although some of his invoices were paid it became more difficult to get money from Ms Fisherova, Mr Murray said.
He said he was left with thousands of dollars owed, and he was concerned others, including a website designer and photographer, were not paid fully for work done.
‘‘I don’t actually know how much of that stuff ended up being paid,’’ he said.
Videographer Ondrej Navman said he was owed about $200 but was not pursuing the amount owed.
‘‘I don’t think the amount was substantial and it was some time ago, so I am just moving on.’’
Website developer Jon Holtslag said he was still in contact with Ms Fisherova and would not make a comment.
In January last year the Happy Hills project ran foul of the Financial Markets Authority, which said its website and advertising material did not comply with sections of the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013.
The authority said some wording on the website could be considered misleading and the proposed partnership might amount to an offer of a financial product.
Mr Murray said he tried to convince Ms Fisherova to engage lawyers to ensure the project had the correct wording, but she had refused.
Finally Ms Fisherova moved from Clyde, leaving money owed on a rental property, as well as leaving Mr Murray several thousand dollars out of pocket, he said.
Mr Murray said he had not laid an official complaint because he had absorbed the losses, but he was concerned other people might be more vulnerable.
A Sydney woman alleges Ms Fisherova left Australia owing her about $A132,000 ($NZ141,000) and says she is speaking to Australian police.
She knew her as Hana Demeterova and believes Fisherova is a pseudonym.
Rozalia Alpert is from the former USSR but has lived in Australia for about 30 years.
She first met Ms Fisherova in about 2009 when Ms Fisherova was a ‘‘humanitarian worker’’.
They began as friends, and over the years Ms Alpert would make donations for Russian and Armenian children to receive cochlear hearing implants, she said.
Ms Alpert created a charity and found sponsors, as well as donating her own money towards the surgeries.
“I would investigate the kids’ names in Armenia or Russia, and they were really in dire circumstances.’’
Ms Alpert estimated she donated about $533,000 ($A500,000) to help children with the surgery through her own charity, The Sound World.
“Hana was like a sounding board to me and a good friend and a fighter against the establishment.
“From time to time even after I lost my own business she would ask to help some other children.
‘‘I did not see anything untoward in her behaviour.”
In about September 2017, Ms Fisherova moved to New Zealand, saying to
Ms Alpert she was being persecuted in the Czech Republic and was applying for political asylum.
Ms Alpert began making payments directly to an account owned byMs Fisherova, but now she believes she has been a victim of Fisherova.
‘‘She was asking for more and more money and tricked me into paying her under a false pretext,’’ Ms Alpert said.
The News visited Ms Fisherova on Monday at a house in Alexandra where she is renting a room.
She denied there was any money outstanding on the Happy Hills project, and disputed the amounts Mr Murray had invoiced.
She said she paid for all the expenses for the project including rent, food and travel.
‘‘In two months Ipaid him more than $10,000,’’ she said.
Ms Fisherova said when money was paid by Ms Alpert into her account in the details she had written ‘‘for humanitarian purposes’’.
‘‘When she was sending me money she was writing ‘for humanitarian help’, like for me personally, various things.’’
She had a loan agreement with Ms Alpert for ¤66,000 (about $NZ115,000), but said she had been unable to pay any of it because she was not working and had been receiving payments from Work and Income since August last year.
‘‘We didn’t specify that I had to pay immediately these euros, but in the future I will be able to pay.’’
She said she was in New Zealand on a work refugee visa and was applying for political asylum.
Her visa was due to expire next month.