Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Five Star loans laundered, court told

Five Star Finance founder Neill Williams faces charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Five Star Finance founder Neill Williams faces charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Five Star founder Neill Williams planned and carried out a complex scheme to launder "toxic" related-party loans culminating in a transaction that was "as uncommercial as can be imagined", the High Court heard yesterday.

The elderly accountant - who has been declared bankrupt twice since age 60 - was sentenced to three years, seven months in jail earlier this year in a Financial Markets Authority case.

Williams' trial on separate charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office began in the High Court at Auckland yesterday, where the accused pleaded not guilty to two counts of theft by a person in a special relationship and five of dishonesty using a document. The charges related to alleged offending between mid-2003 and 2007 at Five Star Consumer Finance, one of the companies in the collapsed Five Star Group.

Opening the SFO's case yesterday, Crown lawyer Brian Dickey said one of the theft charges related to a "complex matrix of interrelated and interdependent transactions" from March 2007. It involved Antares Finance Holdings (another company in the Five Star Group) purchasing all the shares of FSCF from Five Star Finance, which was previously its parent company.

The transactions were designed to direct FSCF investor funds into FSF and "cleaned out" substantial related-party lending, some of which gave rise to the other theft charge Williams is facing, the Crown lawyer said.

Five Star's related-parted balance was growing, which Dickey said was a problem for Williams and the group's listed directors.

"The new entity [Antares] would have audit requirements, the old entity did not. There was a risk these loans would be identified by any such audits as related party and heavily impaired - they needed to be laundered," Dickey said.

In order to raise capital for this purchase of FSCF, Antares tried and failed to raise funds from the public through an issue of redeemable preference shares, Dickey said.

But this was "hopelessly undersubscribed" and created an issue for Five Star's principals, who needed capital to discharge "toxic related party loans and have failed to successfully raise it through the Antares public offer".

Dickey said Williams planned and effected - with Five Star's board - a "transactional scheme" where $14.2 million was advanced from FSCF to six friends or associates of the accused or the group's managing director, Nicholas Kirk.

These six "borrowers" then subscribed for and were issued the redeemable preference shares in Antares, which paid the money to FSF. FSF then paid the $14.2 million back to FSCF to "discharge various related party debts", with funds that originated from FSCF.

"The redeemable preference share transaction was as uncommercial as can be imagined," Dickey said. "There was no prudency or commerciality in using investor funds to fund [FSCF's] own purchase and discharge debts owed to it by related parties and replace the same with non-recourse, unenforceable loans with worthless security".

Companies in collapsed Five Star group

*Five Star Finance (FSF).
*Five Star Consumer Finance (FSCF).
*Five Star Debenture Nominee.
*Antares Finance Holdings.
*Amount still owing: More than $85 million.

- NZ Herald

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