Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Five Star man seeks review

Judge suggests Neill Williams is using delaying tactics after pleading guilty to charges.

The Financial Markets Authority alleges Neill Williams was a prime mover at the company. Photo / Steven McNicholl
The Financial Markets Authority alleges Neill Williams was a prime mover at the company. Photo / Steven McNicholl

The man alleged to be a prime mover at the failed Five Star Group - who admitted misleading investors but then tried to reverse his guilty plea - wants his case reviewed in the High Court.

Neill Alan Williams pleaded guilty in October 2010 to charges concerning misstatements in company offer documents.

But Williams later argued he did so only because he was too ill to endure a trial and thought a guilty plea could lead to home detention rather than prison.

The discharged bankrupt made two unsuccessful attempts to vacate his plea, one in 2011 and another in March of this year.

Williams was not a listed director of Five Star but an employee of the group.

The Financial Markets Authority, which is bringing the case, alleges he was a prime mover at the company if not, at times, a controller of events.

The defendant, who is in his late 70s, was due to go through a disputed facts hearing today before his sentencing but applied late on Friday for an adjournment.

Williams' lawyer, Andrew Speed, is pushing for the hearing to be put off until the conclusion of a separate Five Star trial his client is involved in.

In this second prosecution, Williams faces charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for theft by a person in a special relationship.

It was initially due to be heard last June but it is now scheduled to take place next year.

Williams has pleaded not guilty in this second case.

During the application on Friday, Judge Anne Kiernan said today's disputed facts hearing would need to be adjourned regardless because of procedural difficulties at the court.

Parties will meet again this week in the Auckland District Court where the judge is expected to make a decision on when the hearing will be rescheduled.

As well as pushing for an adjournment, Williams has also filed to have the two plea-vacation decisions reviewed in the High Court.

No date has been set for this.

On Friday, Judge Kiernan said the judicial review appeared like an attempt to delay proceedings.

"At the moment, Mr Speed, I must say it looks to the court like a device to put this off when someone pleaded guilty on October 2, 2010," she said.

In denying Williams' second attempt to reverse his plea, Judge David Harvey said it appeared the defendant had been "delaying full engagement" with the case. "It seems to me, if I may use a classical allusion, that Mr Williams' approach to this case has been to follow the tactics of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctator," Judge Harvey wrote in his March judgment.

Fabius Maximus was a Roman general whose tactics of attrition and avoidance led to the term "Fabian strategy".

The judge noted that Fabius' strategy had succeeded in the long run.

Five Star directors Marcus Macdonald, Nicholas Kirk and Anthony Bowden pleaded guilty to misleading investors in a case brought by the Securities Commission (which became the FMA).

Macdonald and Kirk - who also pleaded guilty to separate criminal charges brought by the SFO - were sentenced to more than two years in jail in late 2010.

They have since been released on parole.


The Five Star Group

*Five Star marketed itself as a low- or modest-risk finance entity which made small consumer loans for clients to make household purchases such as fridges.

*Five Star 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.

*Other companies in the group, Five Star Finance and Five Star Debenture Nominee, owe a further $43 million.

- NZ Herald

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