Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

National MP loses $340,000 civil dispute

Politician unable to prove conspiracy claim against 'shrewd businessman'.

National MP Nicky Wagner lost money in the sale of her share in two website companies to Digital Partners.
National MP Nicky Wagner lost money in the sale of her share in two website companies to Digital Partners.

National Party MP Nicky Wagner is still deciding whether to take further action after losing a $340,000 civil dispute with an Auckland businessman.

The Christchurch central MP went to the High Court at Auckland in November last year against Mt Eden company director Robert Gill and a string of entities either wholly or partially owned by his interests.

In 2008, Wagner entered into a contract to sell her 75 per cent shareholding in two website companies - fashionz.co.nz and garden-nz.co.nz - to Digital Partners, which is majority-owned by Gill.

The total purchase price was about $700,000 but could be adjusted if the companies' costs ran 20 per cent higher than what was specified in the sale agreements or if revenue was 20 per cent less.

Digital Partners' obligations in the sale agreements were guaranteed by another Gill-related company, BA Partners.

In 2010, a dispute began between Wagner and Digital Partners over outstanding payments under the sale and purchase agreements and the matter proceeded to arbitration.

In February 2011, the arbitrator found in Wagner's favour and awarded her $340,000. While the MP demanded the award from Digital Partners and BA Partners, they did not pay and were later put into receivership.

Wagner then took a claim to the High Court, seeking to recover the funds from Gill personally and alleged the Auckland businessman and entities associated with him deliberately arranged their financial affairs in such a way to defeat her claim.

Wagner alleged they had "conspired to injure her either by unlawful means or for an unlawful purpose" and claimed damages for the $340,000 she was owed.

Wagner's amended statement of claim alleged "the defendants conspired to implement an asset-stripping scheme in order to disadvantage [their] creditors".

In her judgement released last month, Justice Rebecca Ellis said Gill was "plainly a shrewd businessman".

But while "there may have been an element of sharp practice" in what had transpired, "the conduct of Mr Gill and his companies was neither directed enough nor sufficiently unlawful to establish the tortious liability alleged," Justice Ellis said. "Mrs Wagner's conspiracy claims must fail accordingly," the judge ruled.

Wagner said yesterday that she hadn't decided whether any further action would be taken in an attempt to recover the debt she was owed.

- NZ Herald

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