Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Couple owing $2.5m in tax among 27 people banned from running firms in NZ

The couple have left their tax bill in NZ and moved to Vanuatu. Photo / Thinkstock
The couple have left their tax bill in NZ and moved to Vanuatu. Photo / Thinkstock

A married couple have moved to Vanuatu after leaving behind a string of collapsed businesses which owe nearly $2.5 million to the New Zealand taxman.

Ross Harold Fitches and Christine Angela Fitches have been banned from running businesses in New Zealand after five companies they were directors of went into liquidation.

One example of poor management was the withdrawal of $200,000 from a company account treated as a "personal cashbox", says the prohibition report.

The five businesses run by the Fitches, which included a motel and a bowling alley, also owed $2.5 million in unpaid taxes.

The Taupo couple were among 27 people banned last year from running a company, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Someone can be banned as a director for up to five years if two or more firms they run are put into liquidation.

To avoid being struck off, a director has to prove his or her alleged mismanagement was not to blame for the insolvency.

Mr Fitches was banned for four years and nine months after five companies went into liquidation. Mrs Fitches, a director of two of those companies, was banned for four years and three months.

Documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act reveal the couple, who are also bankrupts, left New Zealand before they were banned.

The last point of contact they gave the former Ministry of Economic Development was a postal address in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The couple said the global financial crisis was to blame for the insolvency of Lakeland Enterprises, Revenire, Rochis, Twin Peaks Enterprises and Wyndham Street Properties.

But the mismanagement by Mr and Mrs Fitches was "serious and fundamental", according to the report of Peter Barker, deputy registrar of companies.

This included their failure to:

* Understand their obligations to preferred creditors such as Inland Revenue.

* Maintain sufficient financial records.

* Understand legal obligations for each company.

* Act in the best interests of the company.

In respect of Rochis, Mr Barker said that the liquidators had discovered that the current account was overdrawn by $206,042.

"I consider that directors using creditors' money for their own purposes is mismanagement and is not in the best interests of the company.

"I consider that there may be other directors who choose not to recognise that each company is separate from the other and that a company is separate from its directors and shareholders.

"Such people have a propensity to treat each company as their personal cashbox, as occurred with Rochis."

Mr Barker said Rochis owed $2.2 million to the IRD and Lakeland Enterprises a further $275,000.

He said he would ban the Fitches as directors to protect the public.

"My original view was that if I had the ability to impose a period greater than five years, I would have done so."

- NZ Herald

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