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Bernard Hickey: Duo should forfeit $5m from Allied

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Eric Watson (above) and Mark Hotchin continue to live a life of luxury. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Eric Watson (above) and Mark Hotchin continue to live a life of luxury. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Mark Hotchin and Eric Watson would have to be among the least popular people in New Zealand right now, yet they seem oblivious to the public opprobrium.

Their stewardship of more than $400 million worth of investments was a disaster for 13,000 mum and dad investors. Promised an investment that would "weather the storm", those investors now hold shares worth less than $85 million.

Life savings have been lost. Retirement plans have been abandoned. Many tears have been shed and nights endured without sleep. It's not an overstatement to say many lives have been ruined.

Yet Messrs Hotchin and Watson continue to swan around living a life of luxury. Hotchin is almost in the habit of waving his lifestyle in the faces of his distraught investors.

He carried on with a multimillion-dollar birthday party in Fiji just weeks after interest payments were frozen and was reported to have flown off last month for an extended holiday at luxury digs in Hawaii with his family and a personal trainer in tow.

New Zealand Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan captured the mood when she described Hotchin's wife Amanda as a Marie Antoinette-like figure with a "let them eat cake" attitude.

New Zealand is a small place. Hotchin may think we have short memories, but this reputational damage is now seeping deep into the national psyche.

If he wants to work again as a property developer and financier in this country he will need to change his approach and win back a few Brownie points in the eyes of investors specifically, and the public generally. He does have a slight chance at redemption.

In the next two weeks Allied Farmers has to pay $5 million in cash to Messrs Hotchin and Watson as part of the washup from its share-funded purchase of the Hanover Finance loan book.

It is a legal agreement Hotchin's lawyers Chapman Tripp and Allied Farmers have no doubt poured over in detail in recent months.

It was designed late last year as a sweetener to ensure Hotchin's involvement in the transfer of the loans. However, relations between Hotchin and Allied Farmers boss Rob Alloway have taken a sour turn for the worse.

Alloway uncovered many unpleasant surprises. He has had to write down the value of the loans by more than two-thirds to $124 million. He is very unhappy with what he found under the hood on closer inspection. He has even talked about referring the details for further investigation by the authorities.

Allied Farmers shareholders, most of whom were Hanover Finance investors, now face the galling prospect of paying another $5million to the men responsible for this calamity. Hotchin is expected to use some of that money to finish his mansion in Paritai Drive.

Hotchin and Watson could win more than a few Brownie points by forfeiting that $5 million payment. They don't need the money.

That money could be returned pro-rata in cash to Allied Farmers shareholders. It would be a pittance compared to the more than $400million they were owed.

But it would be a concrete sign, albeit small, that Hotchin and Watson care.

Surprise us.

bernard.hickey@interest.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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