Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Five Star accused 'architect': witness

Court told Williams used shareholding to override general manager

Neill Williams. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Neill Williams. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Neill Williams, whose role at Five Star is in dispute, referred to himself as the architect of the now failed finance group, a court has heard.

Five Star Consumer Finance former general manager, Wayne Wade, gave evidence for the Crown yesterday at Williams' disputed facts hearing.

The witness said Williams used his "dominant shareholding" - which was in fact held by the defendant's wife - as a way of overriding him.

"He told me he was effectively the architect of the [Five Star] group and the founder," Wade told the Auckland District Court.

As well as loving to talk in "military terms", Wade said Williams called himself "the eminence grise". "It's a classical reference to the great cardinal, the person who stands in the shadows pulling the strings."

When managing director Nicholas Kirk was on leave, Williams took over his responsibilities and was involved in all major decisions, the witness said.

Williams was not a listed director of Five Star Consumer Finance or related company Five Star Finance, but did some work for the firms. The Financial Markets Authority, which is bringing the case against Williams, alleges he was a prime mover at Five Star if not, at times, a controller of events.

Williams pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges concerning mis-statements made in the 2006 prospectus and investment statement of collapsed Five Star Consumer Finance. But the 79-year-old later argued he only did so because he was too ill to endure a trial. He made two unsuccessful attempts to vacate his plea, one in 2011 and another in March last year.

Wade said Kirk told him Williams was kept "off the radar" because of his background, which included bankruptcy between 1995 and 2000 and links with a failed finance firm in the 1980s.

Under cross-examination, Williams' lawyer Andrew Speed said Wade had never mentioned this point to anyone else before.

"What you're suggesting is a conspiracy between Mr Kirk and Mr Williams to hide him from the public ... I'm suggesting that you just made it up," Speed said.

"That's not true," Wade said.

Five Star Consumer Finance collapsed in 2007 owing $54 million to 2300 investors who to date have received 23c in the dollar back. Five Star Finance also fell into receivership in 2007, owing $42 million.

- NZ Herald

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