A hearing into allegations of the biggest case of corporate fraud in New Zealand promises to be a drawn-out affair.
At a brief initial hearing of 21 charges against five people associated with the collapse of South Canterbury Finance (SCF) in 2010 at the District Court at Timaru today, Judge Joanna Maze granted adjournment and name suppression applications until February 13.
All five defendants have been remanded at large until then.
The Serious Fraud Office action is the biggest of its kind in New Zealand history, involving about $1.8 billion which includes lost investment funds and a taxpayer bailout of around $1.6b.
The charges include false accounting, publishing false statements and obtaining a pecuniary advantage from the Crown Guarantees Scheme, and followed a 14-month investigation into a range of transactions involving the well-known Canterbury company prior to the receivers being called in August 2010.
Some investments have been covered by the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme but some of those payments are also the subject of legal action for recovery.
The alleged offences include theft by a person in a special relationship; obtaining by deception; false statements by the promoter of a company; and false accounting.
If convicted offenders face a possible maximum sentence of between seven and 10 years in prison.
SCF's trouble began in early 2010 when a number of other finance companies had already failed.
Company founder Alan Hubbard and his wife Jean, and their companies Hubbard Management Funds and Aoraki Securities, were placed in statutory management in June that year but it was stated at the time that SCF was not involved.
The actions of the Securities Commission against the Hubbards brought disbelief, sympathy and anger from the Canterbury community which rallied in support of the ageing and popular couple.
There were rallies in Timaru and a call for dismissal of the head of the Securities Commission and the chairman of the Financial Markets Authority over alleged undeclared conflict of interest when it was alleged the head of the authority, Simon Bothaway, had a brother who had been placed in receivership by SCF several years earlier.
Founding member of a support group Gray Eatwell said statutory management was a useful tool for regulatory authorities to use, especially when the financial industry was facing the crisis of the last three years.
He said, however, that the Hubbard situation had been poorly-handled and instead of preventing a crisis for investors in South Canterbury the Serious Fraud Office had created one.
A public meeting also called for compensation to the Hubbards and their investors and their investors.
When, on August 31 last year, SCF collapsed, the enormity of the financial crisis came as a shock to the Canterbury community and the country.
Mr Hubbard, who had been chairman of the company for 20 years, was charged with 50 counts of fraud on June 20 2011, exactly a year after being placed in statutory management. He was killed in a road accident near Oamaru on September 2.
The SFO has hinted at the possibility of investigating other matters associated with SFC when the current charges have been decided.
SCF was placed in receivership on August 31, 2010, triggering a $1.6 billion taxpayer-funded handout to thousands of investors because the company was state-backed, part of a national scheme introduced by the Labour-led Government to protect confidence in banks and the finance system when the global finance crisis hit around 2008.
The SFO has made it clear the scale of the case was huge and difficult.
"On the basis of investigations completed by the intelligence and detection team, the director determined that an investigation into the affairs of SCF may disclose serious or complex fraud," it said in a statement last month.
"An investigation under part I of the Serious Fraud Office Act was commenced on 18 October, 2010.
"The charges allege a variety of offences, including theft by a person in a special relationship, obtaining by deception, false statements by the promoter of a company and false accounting.
"The total estimated value of allegedly fraudulent transactions is about $1.7 billion."
SCF founder and chairman Allan Hubbard died after a car crash on September 2 last year.