Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Bridgecorp: director gets two years jail

Former Bridgecorp director Gary Urwin being sentenced to two years jail at the High Court in Auckland this morning. Photo / Greg Bowker
Former Bridgecorp director Gary Urwin being sentenced to two years jail at the High Court in Auckland this morning. Photo / Greg Bowker

Former Bridgecorp director Gary Urwin, who pleaded guilty to 10 charges of misleading investors, has today been sentenced to two years in prison.

Although Urwin's lawyer, David Reece had pushed for a sentence of home detention, Justice Pamela Andrews said this would not be appropriate.

The 62-year-old accountant originally went to trial with fellow Bridgecorp directors Rod Petricevic, Rob Roest and Peter Steigrad, but then changed his plea to guilty.

These men were convicted of misleading investors in Bridgecorp's offer documents last month and are awaiting sentence.

Justice Andrews said Urwin was likely to have known about Bridgecorp's deteriorating financial health and that the company missed payments to investors before it collapsed owing $459 million.

"You were either grossly negligent or were likely to have knowledge of Bridgecorp's negative liquidity position and that it had missed payments of interest or principal," she said.

The judge referenced four victim impact statements from out-of-pocket Bridgecorp investors, who lost between $10,000 and $2 million each.

"Whatever their loss was, it was money they could not afford to lose. They have all been severely affected," Justice Andrews said.

The judge also said the former director had knowledge of both sides of the "Barcroft transaction", a related-party deal between Bridgecorp and a company which Urwin had interests in.

Despite the ties between the two companies, the transaction was labeled as unrelated in Bridgecorp's offer documents.

The judge said this "masked the true level of related party lending" at Bridgecorp and inflated the failed finance company's profits.

Justice Andrew said Urwin was in a different position to former Bridgecorp chairman Bruce Davidson, who was sentenced to nine months' home detention in October last year and ordered to pay $500,000 reparations and perform 200 hours of community work.

In comparing Urwin's position to other finance company directors who have been before the courts, Justice Andrews said she could not accept that Urwin's level of culpability was "significantly less" than former Nathans Finance bosses.

Three former Nathans' directors - Kenneth (Roger) Moses, Mervyn Doolan and Donald Young - were found guilty last year of making untrue statements in the company's registered prospectus and investment statement dated December 13, 2006.

Moses was sentenced to two years and two months' jail and ordered to pay $425,000 in reparations. Doolan was sentenced to two years and four months' jail and ordered to pay $150,000.

Young was sentenced to nine months' home detention plus 300 hours of community work and reparations of $310,000.

Another former Nathans' director, John Hotchin - who pleaded guilty to Securities Act charges and gave evidence in the Crown's case - was sentenced to 11 months' home detention, 200 hours' community work and ordered to pay $200,000 in reparations.

Justice Andrews said she did not accept last month's situation of four Lombard Finance directors - who all escaped jail terms during their sentencing last month - was comparable to Urwin's case.

In his submissions to the court, Crown lawyer Brian Dickey argued was more culpable than Davidson and was "influential in misleading investors to prop up his own economic interests".

Dickey said Urwin had not shown genuine remorse and although pleaded guilty, this was only on the eve of the trial and as such, the former director should only receive a very limited discount for this.

Dickey submitted that an appropriate sentencing start point was four years jail.

On the other hand, Reece said Urwin was being portrayed as an ogre and there was no evidence to suggest he was intentionally trying to deceive investors.

"He was a committed worker trying to make profits on behalf of the company, which had been a successful venture on his behalf for many years prior."

Reece said Urwin had good standing in the business community and no prior convictions.

Urwin could not pay reparations because he had "lost everything" following Bridgecorp's failure and a subsequent domestic split up, his lawyer said.

"If he could, he would offer any amount to underline his genuine remorse," Reece said.

Reece submitted that an appropriate sentencing starting point was 18 months to two years' imprisonment.

In delivering the sentence, Justice Andrews said an appropriate starting point was three years and three months jail.

After a discount for previous good character and guilty plea, Urwin was sentenced to two years in jail.

"I do not accept that you were let down by poor financial or legal advice....directors are required to exercise judgement and to test the competence of management," Justice Andrews said.

When delivering his verdict in the Petricevic, Roest and Steigrad case, Justice Geoffrey Venning said it was inevitable that Roest and Petricevic would face jail time. Petricevic will be sentenced on April 26th and Roest on May 18. Both are in custody.

After sentencing, Petricevic and Roest are due to appear in court together again in September on criminal charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 29 Nov 2014 21:57:59 Processing Time: 535ms