On the trail of bankrupt's treasure

By David Fisher

The house at the centre of the inquiries into Dr Alan Simpson. In total $2.3m of gold, silver and foreign currency has been recovered from the house. Photo / Herald on Sunday
The house at the centre of the inquiries into Dr Alan Simpson. In total $2.3m of gold, silver and foreign currency has been recovered from the house. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Police have seized a fortune in gold and silver from secret compartments in the suburban home of a retired psychiatrist. Now, the case has pulled in one of the country's most successful and reclusive businessmen.

For a psychiatrist, Dr Alan Geraint Simpson had one of the best addresses in the world. In the medical world, Harley St in London has gold-plated credibility.

But Simpson has seen it all swept away. His professional practice, the prestige that went with it and a small fortune got caught in the greatest financial scandal of the 1990s.

The 68-year-old ended up half a world away in the Waikato - along with $2.3 million in hidden gold, silver and foreign currency.

On their first visit to Simpson's Hamilton home, a specialist police team found $1 million in gold, silver and foreign currency.

But soon, a builder led them to secret compartments he had constructed for the recently discharged English bankrupt.

There, they found another $1 million in gold and silver.

Simpson had said he was preparing for the end of the world, police were told.

Eventually, Simpson surrendered another $300,000 in silver - but it is alleged another $1.8 million also exists.

The house was like a Chinese puzzle. And wrapped inside that puzzle is the mystery of Simpson's relationship to one of New Zealand's most successful businessmen, the reclusive Carrick John Clough.

The extraordinary story of the gold and silver is playing out in Hamilton's High Court. Simpson was bankrupted in England last year over a 12-year-old debt.

The lawyer attempting to recoup money for those owed by Simpson has drawn New Zealand authorities into a world-first - using new international agreements to get our authorities to seize property that could be subject to another country's bankruptcy order.

The case has yet to reach the stage of deciding who the gold and silver belongs to - and whether the court will order its confiscation to cover Simpson's debts.

The case has drawn in builder Mike Holloway, who told the Herald on Sunday he had been sworn to silence by New Zealand's bankruptcy administrator, the Official Assignee. But court papers show it was his evidence about work he did for Simpson in December last year that prompted the second police search.

Holloway told officials he was hired to replace flooring at the house Simpson was living in - and while there was asked to build new structures described in court as "bizarre".

Holloway's staff created a compartment under the dining room floor. Examination found that part of the floor could be lifted up if screws holding it in place were removed. Unlike the remainder of the floor, this section was not glued.

According to Holloway, Simpson had said he wanted the cavity because "the world was going to end".

A second compartment was created under the house in the basement furnace room. A concrete block was laid and surrounded by small concrete walls. It was here that searchers later found one of three safes.

Simpson had an explanation for each. He told Holloway the first was to store water and a survival kit. The second, beneath the house, was for suitcases.

Searchers also found bars of precious metal in the vanity unit in the bathroom. More was found in the home office, some under papers in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, some underneath that drawer.

The gold and silver seized by police are being held in a secure Westpac vault in Auckland.

The treasure trove stands in stark contrast to the financial information Simpson had supplied the court. He said he rented the $750,000 house in one of Hamilton's best areas for $186 a week with an income of $347 a week from NZ Superannuation and a UK pension. He had not worked for 12 years and his outgoings, he said, were $357 a week.

Simpson said he had three bank accounts - in Scotland, England and New Zealand - and each had meagre balances.

There was no mention of a property company he previously owned, Warkworth Land Ltd, which was wound up in 2005. The voluntary liquidation report stated that $670,000 was left with no debts paid and the proceeds returned to Simpson, the sole shareholder.

Justice Heath said "questions do arise as to the veracity" of information Simpson had supplied about his financial affairs.

It all started in England almost two decades ago with one of the biggest financial scandals of the 1990s. The prestigious insurer - Lloyd's of London - was landed with massive bills for settlements in US courts.

Lloyd's passed the cost to its so-called "names": underwriters including members of the Royal family, landed gentry, judges, politicians - and Alan Simpson.

In the years that have followed, the financial pressure has been blamed for suicides, divorce and sickness. In 1998, Simpson was ordered to pay $344,000. He did not. Instead, he and others pursued Lloyd's through the courts alleging fraud and a failure of duty. The cases all failed. The order to pay was enforced in 2005, when a judge told Simpson he was using "delaying tactics" and enforcement of the debt was "inevitable".

Last year Lloyd's bankrupted Simpson. The debt had grown with interest to $512,000. There are six other creditors, including New Zealand's Inland Revenue Department.

By this point Simpson had moved to New Zealand, where he already had links: he and businessman Carrick Clough had been directors in property development company Otaha Land Ltd, set up in 1988, and had established Warkworth Land Ltd in 1999.

Clough's lawyer David O'Neill said the pair had met in the 1980s but grew apart as his client worked out of Hong Kong while Simpson stayed in England.

In the 1990s, Simpson worked for a while at the University of Hong Kong, a city where Clough had formed successful IT business CSSL in 1983. CSSL now has over 380 staff in dozens of offices across the world, with a turnover in excess of $300 million.

Clough and Simpson were also associated through the Hamilton house's mortgage with Sennex Ltd, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The mortgage documents carry Clough's signature. And Justice Paul Heath said there was evidence that Simpson had - through Sennex Ltd - done "significant" dealing in precious metals and foreign currency over the past summer - after he was made bankrupt.

The judge said the bullion deals through Sennex Ltd may have been undertaken by Simpson.

Clough was unavailable to be interviewed. His palatial Hamilton home - with fingerprint-coded security system - was empty last week and he was said to be in San Francisco.

His lawyer said: "John Clough is certainly not happy about what's been going on. He's certainly of the mind that he wants to distance himself from the matter. It's not something that involves him. He's an international businessman.

"He is no longer associated with Sennex Ltd and has not been for some time."

O'Neill said Clough was also preparing to exit the trust arrangement that connected him to the house in which Simpson lived, and had no knowledge of the secret compartments.

"It's all a bit Maxwell Smart."

THE HOARD
The Hamilton house has been visited on three occasions by police of staff from the Official Assignee.

Gold and silver has been found worth $2.3 million in three safes, a hidden compartment, a filing cabinet and a bathroom cabinet.

Office
* A safe in the study was found and opened revealing a stash of gold.
* Searchers found gold bars beneath papers in a compartment in the base of a filing cabinet.

Bathroom
* Gold bars were found in the bathroom vanity.

Dining Room
* A secret compartment beneath the floorboards was revealed. Although no gold was revealed, it was a factor in gaining a new search warrant to further examine the house.

Furnace Room
* A secret compartment accessed from the furnace room revealed a safe.

Stairwell
* A third safe was found hidden beneath the basement stairs.

- Herald on Sunday

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