Grab for pharmacist’s $6m estate knocked back

Whether a dispensary constituted a “household” was one question raised in a case where a former cop faked a relationship with a pharmacist, to try and inherit his millions

In August 2013 George Sclavos, a wealthy pharmacist, died at his pharmacy, leaving his $6 million estate to his two nieces, Cleopatra Calokerinos and Anna Sclavos-Lahana.

But Okan Yesilhat, a former policeman turned motor mechanic, challenged the will, saying that he had been in a clandestine same-sex relationship with Mr Sclavos for the 14 years before the pharmacist’s death, and that as his de facto partner he should inherit the estate.

This was disputed by Mr Sclavos’ niece Ms Calokerinos, the will’s executor, who alleged that Mr Yesilhat had borrowed money from her uncle which he should now repay, and also that he had fraudulently misappropriated monies from Mr Sclavos’ bank account just after his death.

The Court heard that on the day Mr Sclavos died, Mr Yesilhat found out and transferred more than $200,000 from the pharmacist’s bank account to his own.

George Sclavos had been feeling unwell that day in August 2013, and was found “alive but barely conscious” at the pharmacy at about 2.30pm. Ambulance officers attended and the pharmacist was pronounced dead at about 4pm.

Between 5.43pm and 5.58pm that day, Mr Yesilhat made the bank transfers. He later claimed that he did not find out about the pharmacist’s death until 6.41pm when police present at the pharmacy answered Mr Sclavos’ phone.

But an employee at the pharmacy said they saw Mr Yesilhat outside the pharmacy at mid-afternoon.

The Supreme Court had heard that the withdrawals were the “largest single transaction ever on George’s accounts in one day,” and that they “took all George’s credit and debit facilities to their available limits”.

Mr Sclavos had never married and had no children, and had operated his south-western Sydney pharmacy since the 1980s.

He and Mr Yesilhat met in 1999, Mr Yesilhat said, claiming that in the two years after this meeting, they would spend three or four days together at the pharmacy after work, the Tribunal heard, for up to five hours at a time.

“He said that he and the deceased commenced a personal and intimate same-sex relationship, including a sexual relationship, by 2001, and that it was conducted entirely in secret and exclusively at the pharmacy,” Court transcripts note.

This purported relationship continued through the end of Mr Yesilhat’s first marriage and his successful graduation from the Police Academy.

When Mr Yesilhat and his brother expressed an interest in buying a tyre business, Mr Sclavos gave him cheques totalling $140,000, he said.

The former policeman said that the pharmacist had given him access to his bank accounts so that he could buy stock, and that there had been no obligation to repay Mr Sclavos.

But Mr Sclavos’ niece said that while her uncle had never married, he had had several long-term sexual relationships with women and that there had never been any suggestion or evidence that he was attracted to men.

She contended that the two men had been friends only, and that Mr Yesilhat had only met her uncle in 2007, through his first wife.

There had been no sexual or romantic relationship between the pair, she said.

While Mr Yesilhat claimed that Mr Sclavos had told him he barely knew his nieces, Ms Calokerinos and her sister Anna Sclavos-Lahana had a close and loving relationship with the pharmacist, and that he had taken on a fatherly role on important occasions, given the two women had lost their own father as children.

In making his earlier decision regarding the will, Justice Michael Slattery had said that, “I do not believe Mr Yesilhat’s evidence that he had a sexual relationship with George”.

While there was financial interdependence, he said that his was explained “by the existence of informal commercial arrangements between an older man and a younger friend where for the sake of convenience and because the older trusted the younger, the older man gave bank account linkages and other confidential information to the younger man to allow the younger to transfer and then repay funds”.

Even if such a romantic or sexual relationship existed, it had, according to Mr Yesilhat, taken place entirely in secret at the pharmacy, so the two had never shared a household.

“The pharmacy dispensary area was not a ‘household’ that Mr Yesilhat ‘shared’ with the deceased,” the judge had said. “Neither of them tended it, lived in it or treated it like a household which these two individuals shared.

“The video taken of the area in about 2010 … shows it exactly as it is: a pharmacy dispensary area occupied primarily for business purposes by a business proprietor and some associates.”

The Court found that Mr Yesilhat had moved money out of the pharmacist’s bank accounts the day Mr Sclavos died, in the knowledge that he had passed away.

“In my view Mr Yesilhat could not have had any genuine belief that he had any legitimate authority to transfer those funds when he did,” the judge said.

Bank records showed that the loans had not been gifts, as there had been substantial repayments labelled as such.

In 2017 Mr Yesilhat was ordered to repay all the monies loaned to him by George Sclavos before his death, and restore all the funds he had transferred fraudulently and without authorisation.

In 2018 he was found guilty on 14 charges around misappropriation of monies from Mr Sclavos, and handed a two-year Intensive Corrections Order plus community service.

Mr Yesilhat had appealed the earlier decision made by Justice Slattery, appearing before the Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal handed down its decision regarding the April 2021 hearing this week, in which it rejected each of Mr Yesilhat’s grounds of appeal and dismissed it with costs.

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