Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Bid for judge-alone trial delays finance firm case

Neill Williams, de facto Director of the Five Star Group. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Neill Williams, de facto Director of the Five Star Group. Photo / Steven McNicholl

The trial of Five Star Consumer Finance's Neill Williams has been delayed as the Crown makes a bid to have the case heard without a jury.

Williams, who the Crown argues was a de facto Five Star director, faces charges from the Serious Fraud Office that include theft by a person in a special relationship.

Williams has pleaded not guilty.

His trial, estimated to take up to four weeks, was due to start in the High Court at Auckland today.

However, it has now been delayed as the Crown bids to have the trial heard by a judge alone.

Lawyers for the Crown and Williams are scheduled to appear in court this morning to discuss this and other pre-trial applications. A new trial date will also be set.

If the bid for a judge-alone trial fails, it is understood the case will be the first from a collapsed finance company to go before a jury.

Five Star marketed itself as a low or modest-risk finance entity which made small consumer loans for household purchases such as fridges. Instead, it was allegedly investing large sums in complex commercial and related-party loans totalling more than $50 million.

In 2007, Five Star Consumer Finance collapsed with losses of $42 million. Five Star Finance and Five Star Debenture Nominee owe a further $43 million.

Five Star directors Marcus MacDonald and Nicholas Kirk pleaded guilty in 2010 in the Auckland District Court to charges brought by the SFO of theft by a person in a special relationship.

The pair also pleaded guilty to Securities Act charges.

Kirk and MacDonald were sentenced to more than two years in jail in late 2010 but have since been released on parole.

Another director, Anthony Bowden, pleaded guilty to Securities Act charges and was sentenced to nine months' home detention. He later pleaded guilty to two theft charges and was sentenced to another nine months' home detention and ordered to complete 100 hours' community work.

Williams originally pleaded guilty to Securities Act charges but made two attempts to reverse it.

The application to vacate the guilty plea was rejected a second time in March by Judge David Harvey.

Williams is due to be sentenced on these charges later this year following a disputed facts hearing.

- NZ Herald

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