Two men charged with burning down a sprawling harbourside heritage home worth $24million have faced court for the first time.
Property tycoon Steve Nassif, 69, and Adams Kipkosgei Bett, 20, were arrested on Wednesday morning, charged with destroying the sprawling seven-bedroom Northwood home on Sydney’s Lower North Shore in a late-night blaze on September 3.
Mr Nassif appeared at Penrith Local Court on Thursday and was granted strict conditional bail before his sentencing at Bankstown Local Court on January 12.
Sergeant Leon Payne argued against Mr Nassif getting bail telling the court the accused had access to ‘significant amounts of money’ and a ‘link’ to the current owners Ouyan ‘Owen’ Chen and his wife Xiao Hong Li.
Sergeant Payne told the court Mr Nassif had admitted during a police interview he and Mr Chen, a fund and property developer, had gone camping and hunting together in the past.
There is no suggestion Mr Chen has been accused of any wrongdoing or was involved in the blaze that erupted at the heritage home.
Two men have been arrested over an arson attack that reduced a luxury mansion in Sydney’s lower north shore to rubble in September (pictured is the blaze)
Property developer Steve Nassif (pictured), 69, was escorted out of his Wentworth Falls home, about 60km west from Sydney, in handcuffs early on Wednesday morning. Adams Kipkosgei Bett, 20, was arrested at Punchbowl with police alleging he lit the blaze at the mega-mansion
The $24 million mansion in Northwood, in Sydney ‘s Lower North Shore, went up in flames on September 3 with specialist forensic officers later determining the fire was deliberately lit
As part of Mr Nassif’s bail conditions, he must report to his local police station daily, not leave his house outside the hours of 9am to 6pm and not go within 10km of an international port of departure.
Mr Nassif must also deposit a security bond of $400,000 as part of his bail, which he will forfeit if he fails to comply with his strict conditions.
The court heard Mr Nassif owned a farm worth at least $1.5million and was willing to offer up to $1million surety to get bail, ABC reported.
At Bankstown Local Court on Thursday, Mr Nassif’s co-accused Mr Bett did not apply for bail, with his matter to return to the same court for a mention on January 12.
Both men have been charged with destroy of damage property in company by means of fire or explosive.
Police are also looking for a third man, who has not yet been arrested, wanted in connection with the organisation of the arson attack.
Detective Chief Inspector Richard Puffett revealed on Wednesday it had been a tip from the member of the public that had led to the arrest of one of the men.
The dramatic arrests came two weeks after detectives from the NSW arson squad issued a call for information after investigations stalled.
Police will allege Nassif (pictured in handcuffs) was involved in the burning down of the mansion
On November 29, police released footage of the Northwood street on the night of the fire and asked anyone who may have seen a silver Toyota HiAce Van with roof racks driving near Cliff Road at the time to come forward.
The street CCTV showed the area was completely dark until a ball of fire erupted inside the home.
A man was then captured running towards the van a short time after the flames took hold, with police believing he left the scene in the Toyota van.
Specialist Fire and Rescue NSW sniffer dogs were brought in to investigate the fire with the expert animals picking up traces of an accelerant in the ruins of the property.
Despite the best efforts of firefighters, the house sustained significant damage with forensic officers determining the fire was allegedly deliberately lit.
No one was home at the time and no injuries were reported.
On November 29, police released footage of the Northwood street on the night of the fire and asked anyone who may have seen a silver Toyota HiAce Van with roof racks (pictured) driving near Cliff Road at the time to come forward
It took emergency workers about two hours to douse the flames. The seven-bedroom home was almost completely destroyed
Prior to the home being burnt down, the property was one of the largest pieces of privately-owned land in the city, boasting a 46metre water frontage.
The almost 5,000sqm property jutted down to the Lane Cove River and was bordered by federation-style properties.
The property had been involved in neighbourhood development disputes for the past five years.
Until late last year when it was reluctantly sold, the waterfront estate was the home of the Rossi family, which Mary and Theo Rossi bought in 1961.
Mary, a TV pioneer and travel business owner, lived there until she passed away at the age of 95 last year having raised 10 children in the house with her husband.
The Rossi family sold the seven-bedroom house complete with a tennis court and boatshed in November 2021 for $24.1million.
Prior to the heritage home being burnt down the property was one of the largest pieces of privately-owned land in the city, boasting a 46metre water frontage
Theo and Mary Rossi (pictured) bought the seven-bedroom Northwood home in 1961 and raised ten children in the now-destroyed heritage home
Its current owner, Mr Chen, also owns the house next-door, which he purchased for $5.6million in 2007.
It has been reported the developer’s plans to knockdown and rebuild the home were denied by Lane Cove Council after the panel argued the proposal would have ‘unacceptable impacts’ on the heritage home next-door.
However, later in September the council gave the plans the green light after revisions were made to Mr Chen’s original proposal.
The council said the new plans, which had reduced the height of the entire home, had ‘effectively addressed the grounds for the original refusal’.
A council spokesman said at the time the fire had had no sway on the assessment of the development which included a games room, nine bedrooms and a pool.