The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (2024)

He appears confused, frightened even, mouth slightly agape, droopy eyes, a well-groomed, innocent-looking student barely in his 20s.

Incongruously, the shot, now more than two decades old, is of a detainee, hauled in by Florida police in Miami after being arrested for possession of 31 grams of cocaine, just over an ounce in the old measurement, with a street value back then of about $US6,200.

Unbeknown to the hapless youth, a drugs task force had been tracking the package and pounced once Joshua Craig Wander opened it.

Incredibly, for a crime that ordinarily might have carried a 20-plus year jail sentence, Wander somehow managed to avoid prison and instead ended up with a 16-year probation sentence after pleading no contest in court.

Nor did it dent his career prospects. From that February 2004 bust, he went on to graduate from the University of Florida and forge a career in the world of finance.

Meet the mysterious man behind the collapsed cut-price airline Bonza, which was caught in the crossfire of what appears to be a dramatic falling out between Wander and his former mentor and backer, insurance and aircraft leasing mogul Kenneth King.

The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (1)

Barely in the skies for 15 months, administrators at accountancy firm Hall Chadwick are desperately casting around for potential new backers to keep the airline afloat.

But there appears to be little hope for the beleaguered start-up.

When three of Bonza's four aircraft were impounded after being repossessed last week — reportedly with passengers on board — the airline's Australian management supposedly were stunned.

But its financing travails had been widely reported and either Wander's 777 Partners or his former ally Kenneth King had already called in restructuring firm KordaMentha to advise on whether they should continue supporting the operation.

A repeat grounding

It's not the first time a 777 Partners-backed airline has had its planes repossessed.

The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (2)

In March last year, just weeks after Bonza took to the skies, low-cost Canadian airline Flair – in which Wander's 777 Partners has a controlling interest – had four jets seized on the tarmac by bailiffs over unpaid leasing charges.

It was just one of a growing number of disputes in which 777 Partners has become embroiled, with court battles over late or non-payments stretching across its recently constructed empire.

Wander built the company – which claims to have a unique model of investing its own money rather than relying upon investors – with Steve Pasko, a colleague at a former financing group, at rapid speed.

According to its website, the strategy to bypass banks and investors was formulated "to overcome the inherent compromises they saw in the prevailing model".

Which begs the obvious question. Where did all the original money come from?

To which the pair have a simple explanation. They got lucky early, made a motza and that allowed them to rapidly expand.

Initially, the business was involved strictly in finance.

Formed in 2015, it was what's known as an "aggregator", scooping up annuities at a discount from individuals and organisations desperate for up-front cash. Its other main money spinner was in reinsurance, a high-risk business that insures the exposures of other insurers.

But it then expanded into a dizzying array of unusual, high-profile but ultimately loss-making ventures. And that's when the court disputes – at least at a corporate level – began.

Cracks in fuselage

The Bonza collapse may be big news here. But it is a mere blip in the unfolding drama across the globe as 777 Partners faces fire on almost all fronts.

During the past seven years, this mysterious, little-known operation has plunged hundreds of millions of dollars into businesses that lose money.

The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (3)

That includes buying large stakes in some of the world's best-known European football teams, which alone appears enough to sink the 777 Partners operation. But more on that later.

Trouble began percolating through the organisation late last year when its once-lucrative reinsurance operation, 777Re, had its credit rating slashed to CCC from A, prompting the Bermuda Monetary Authority to assume administrative control of the operation as it investigated its finances.

That set off a chain reaction.

US financial authorities then questioned the viability of the operation, forcing Wander's once great mentor, King, to back away or risk being swept up in the mess.

And that appears to have been the catalyst that finally set the 777 Partners house on fire, with Bonza being swept up in the conflagration.

King's company, A-CAP, is a sprawling financial enterprise concentrated on leasing, insurance and aviation.

Not only was he using the 777 Partners reinsurance business to cover his own corporation's insurance policies – funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars in business its way – he was reportedly lending cash to the group and was involved in aircraft leasing joint ventures.

In a webinar to investors last month, shortly after 777Re had been downgraded, he explained why he was severing relations with the group.

"777Re has been disruptive to A-CAP in the sense that they went from an A-minus rating in November to a C-minus rating just the other day and that's unfortunate for a lot of reasons," he explained.

One reason, he said, was that 777 Partners "wasn't being managed in the way it needed to be, but secondly, it's created an emphasis for the ratings agencies to punish insurance companies that use unrated reinsurers.

"We're actively taking steps to correct that," he added.

One of those steps was to last month unwind a joint ownership arrangement with 777 Partners over 30 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, with an A-CAP offshoot, AIP, assuming full control.

Three of those planes were leased to Bonza until this week. King obviously formed the view that Bonza didn't earn enough cash to pay for his aircraft.

That's not surprising. Bonza's boss, former Virgin Blue executive Tim Jordan, claimed from the outset that he needed 10 aircraft to make the new operation viable. When he called in administrators this week, he had just four.

The large Boeing 737s are arguably the wrong fit for Bonza, flying second and third-tier routes, and appear to have been used as a means to soak up the US backer's fleet and provide it with income.

Jordan was facing other pressures too. Many of the routes Bonza was flying were lesser known, smaller airports, and local authorities, overjoyed at the prospect of attracting new arrivals, either waived or reduced airport fees.

A year in, and those honeymoon deals were ending, straining Bonza's finances.

Football fetish delivers a financial finale

There's only one thing that fascinates the public more than airlines, and that's sport.

In the past two years, 777 Partners has amassed sizeable stakes in a stable of high-profile soccer teams, bringing seven football clubs in seven countries into its orbit, for an estimated outlay of close to a billion dollars.

Starting with Spanish giant Sevilla, it then took control of the historic Genoa CFC, moved across the Atlantic to Brazil with the purchase of Vasco da Gama, then Belgium's Standard Liege, Red Star in Paris and Hertha BSC in Germany.

The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (4)

Its most recent expansion was Melbourne Victory with a $US6.1 million investment last year and promises of a further $US20 million by 2028. All up, analysts estimate it has spent around $US900 million on its foray into professional football.

But its latest bid for Everton Football Club in the English Premier League has thrust it into the spotlight. And it has attracted the prying eyes of a group of investigative journalists publishing a website and magazine called Josimar, which has unearthed a swag of court cases across the 777 Partners empire, mostly for defaults on loans.

The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (5)

The Everton purchase has been continuously delayed, with the New York Times reporting that the UK Financial Conduct Authority has not been provided with the documents it has demanded for the sale to proceed.

Everton has been in trouble with the football authorities under its current ownership, for posting losses that exceed the league's financial fair play rules.

Already docked points once this season, a penalty reduced from 10 points to six on appeal, it's at risk of relegation out of the top tier of English football, with the prospect of a further points deduction for more alleged financial fair play breaches in the most recent completed financial year.

In addition to football teams, 777 Partners has plunged into UK basketball, owning the UK Basketball League along with the UK Lions.

While many blanch at the amount of cash outlaid on the expansion, the biggest problem for 777 Partners is that none of the clubs are profitable. Each requires ongoing financial support just to stay afloat.

That has strained finances right across the group, accompanied by mounting legal disputes over unpaid debts, the most prominent of which is from Russian oligarch Oleg Boyko over missed instalments on an 8.5 million euro loan to help fund the initial purchase of the group's stake in Sevilla FC.

While Chadwick desperately casts the net for a saviour for Bonza, the growing alarm in the UK and North America over the long-delayed purchase of Everton FC – which is bleeding cash – has overshadowed the problems of a tiny, cut-price Australian airline start-up.

But its demise potentially creates further legal troubles for 777 Partners and the prospect of more unwanted financial disclosures.

Wander's run of luck may have hit the wall.

The ABC contacted 777 Partners to ask for comment about these issues as well as the collapse of Bonza, but had not received any response by publication.

The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza (2024)


The mysterious man behind 777 Partners, the strange private equity firm that owns Bonza? ›

The collapse of discount airline Bonza has people looking into Josh Wander, the man behind 777 Partners, the private equity firm that owns Bonza, which was caught in the crossfire of what appears to be a dramatic falling out between Wander and his former mentor and backer, insurance and aircraft leasing mogul Kenneth ...

What is the 777 partner controversy? ›

The article described 777's model as 'unique' but questioned the chances of return on investment (ROI), adding that US court papers have accused the firm's companies of fraud, kidnapping, extortion, predatory lending and racketeering.

Who owns the 777 Partners? ›

777 is 100% owned and controlled by its employees.

What do 777 Partners do? ›

Founded in 2015, 777 Partners describe themselves as a holding firm who are "fearless disruptors" in the investment landscape. They provide accounting, finance, human resources, procurement, marketing, legal and technology services and analytics to their operating companies.

Where is 777 Partners located? ›

777 Partners is a Miami-based, alternative investment platform that invests across a number of high-growth attractive verticals with a strong focus on financial services.

How do 777 Partners make money? ›

Like a lot of the cash sloshing around private equity these days, much of 777's money comes from an unlikely and pedestrian source: insurance. The firm owns a Bermuda-based reinsurer whose policy premiums and annuities payments appear to have bankrolled much of its buying spree.

How much are the 777 Partners worth? ›

The private investment firm's net worth is reportedly valued at £9.63 billion ($12 billion), which would make Everton the fifth-richest club in the Premier League behind Arsenal, but ahead of the likes of bitter crosstown rivals, Liverpool in addition to Tottenham and Aston Villa.

What airline does 777 Partners own? ›

777 owns Canadian company Flair Airlines and Australian-based Bonza, both of which are low-cost carriers.

Why was the 777 discontinued? ›

The trijet 777 was later dropped, following marketing studies that favored the 757 and 767 variants. Boeing was left with a size and range gap in its product line between the 767-300ER and the 747-400.

How many employees does 777 Partners have? ›

He told them in October that 777 Partners has more than 3,000 employees who have built “relatively conventional but profitable finance and insurance businesses that enabled us to invest and build positions in more exciting industries such as aviation and sports.”

What is the source of funds for 777 Partners? ›

A major funding source for 777 Partners is its Class E Bermuda life reinsurer, 777 Re which was recently downgraded to C- by AM Best. This life insurance and annuity reinsurer, has been taken under the administrative control of the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA).

What is the story behind 777? ›

Angel number 777 represents luck, spirituality, intuition, and divine protection, with a strong connection to the spiritual realm. Ever noticed certain numbers appearing more often in your life? It's like they're trying to tell you something. Angel numbers are like secret messages from the universe.

What does 777 have to do with the Bible? ›

Religious significance

According to the Bible, Lamech, the father of Noah lived for 777 years.

Who are the competitors of 777 Partners? ›

777 Partners's competitors and similar companies include Novacap, JSE, Ares Management and Degroof Petercam. 777 Partners is a private equity investment firm. Novacap is a financial services provider.

What is 777 Partners legal name? ›

777 Partners LLC is a private equity firm. The Firm invests in aviation, insurance, fintech, litigation finance, private credit, sports, media, and entertainment sectors.

Who is the founder of 777? ›

Josh Wander and Steve Pasko, co-founders of 777 Partners, have stepped down from their positions as managing partners of the beleaguered firm, as reported by Josimar journalist, Philippe Auclair.

What is the 777 Partners complaint? ›

Lenders to 777 Partners have accused it of fraud, claiming that the Miami-based investment firm borrowed against $350 million of assets that it didn't own, didn't exist or were already promised to someone else.

What is the Leadenhall Capital Partners lawsuit? ›

The suit accuses the defendants of fraudulently inducing the plaintiffs to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the defendants' business by pledging collateral which either did not exist, was not owned by the defendants or was already pledged to another lender.

What clubs are owned by 777? ›

It is best known for its portfolio of soccer clubs, which includes controlling ownership of Genoa in Italy, Standard Liège in Belgium, second-tier French side Red Star and Vasco da Gama in Brazil, as well as minority stakes in Spanish giants Sevilla, Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin and Melbourne Victory in Australia.

How much did 777 buy Everton for? ›

Everton have been sold to 777 Partners, the struggling Premier League club said on Friday, with the U.S. private equity firm taking over from Farhad Moshiri in a deal reportedly worth more than £550 million ($685m).

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