Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Petricevic jailed for 6 and half years

Bridgecorp's Rod Petricevic being sentenced in the High Court at Auckland this morning. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Bridgecorp's Rod Petricevic being sentenced in the High Court at Auckland this morning. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Former Bridgecorp director Rod Petricevic has been jailed for six and a half years.

Petricevic was found guilty earlier this month on 18 charges for misleading investors and of knowingly making false statements that Bridgecorp had never missed a payment of interest or principal.

Some of the charges Petricevic was convicted of under the Crimes Act carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Justice Geoffrey Venning said Petricevic had not shown genuine remorse or taken true responsibility for his offending.

Reading out a statement from an out-of-pocket retired couple, who lost $250,000 when Bridgecorp collapsed, Justice Venning said the impact of Petricevic's offending on Bridgecorp investors had been serious.

"There is not a day they have woken up and not thought about it. It is the most depressing period of their lives," the judge said.

"Your offending has affected people not only financially but emotionally," Justice Venning said.

Petricevic's actions had also undermined faith in New Zealand's financial markets, the judge said.

Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said interests associated with Petricevic had 60 per cent shareholding in Bridgecorp and the former director "had a personal interest in the maintenance of the company".

"The case is really a pinnacle of market fraud cases because of the nature of lies that were told to the trustee and the public," Dickey said.

Dickey asked for a starting point of eight years in prison.

Petricevic's lawyer, Charles Cato, admitted that his client's offending was serious but said a starting point of six years was more adequate.

Petricevic had shown regret for investor losses and had no previous convictions.

"When an older man, and Mr Petricevic is a man of 62, is imprisoned and falls from grace as he has done, is separated from family and friends, the fall is rather harder than someone younger and in any case there is less time for rehabilitation," Cato said.

Cato said adverse media attention since Bridgecorp's collapse had put strain on both Petricevic and his family and that was a kind of punishment in itself.

In considering the matter, Justice Venning believed a starting point of seven and a half years was appropriate.

He gave Petricevic credit for having no previous convictions and acknowledged prison would be hard for him.

He also took into account the harassment and personal threats Petricevic and his family had faced following investor losses and gave him a further discount.

Bridgecorp's financial controller Rob Roest was convicted on the same 18 charges as Petricevic, while fellow director Peter Steigrad was found guilty of six Securities Act charges.

Roest and Steigrad will be sentenced on May 18.

According to evidence tabled in the trio's four-month-long High Court trial, Bridgecorp began missing payments to investors on February 7, 2007. The company collapsed around five months later, owing $459 million to 14,500 investors.

Petricevic maintained in court he did not know about the missed payments in February and did not become aware of one set until he read about it in the newspaper. However, in what began something of a blame game in the trial, Roest said he told Bridgecorp's former managing director about issues with money going to investors on time.

Petricevic denied this Cato, suggested Roest may have a motive to implicate his fellow director, saying it was "human nature" for a co-accused to attempt to "mitigate their position" when standing trial. But Justice Venning ruled that Roest's evidence was reliable.

"Given the situation Bridgecorp faced at the time, it is logical that Mr Roest and Mr Petricevic would discuss Bridgecorp's cash flow and its commitments to investors ... Mr Roest had nothing to gain and no reason to withhold information regarding the missed payments from Mr Petricevic," the judge said.

Although Petricevic accused the finance director of being more "hands-on" than he was at Bridgecorp, both faced the same fate - guilty of all the 18 charges they faced.

When Petricevic, Roest and Steigrad were found guilty, out-of-pocket Bridgecorp investors called for lengthy jail sentences.

One investor, Rex Warren lost $1 million in the company and said the guilty verdict was the right outcome but it brought little closure.

"Of course they're guilty, but the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

"I would be willing to pull the lever or pull the trigger if they were hung," said the Katikati man.

Warren believed his loss could have been avoided.

"I can say we made mistakes, but in my case most of the (Bridgecorp) staff knew what was happening when we invested our money but they didn't say anything."

Former Bridgecorp director Gary Urwin, who pleaded guilty to misleading investors and was sentenced to two years' jail, has indicated he will appeal this.

Former Bridgecorp chairman Bruce Davidson pleaded guilty the same charges and was sentenced to nine months' home detention last October and ordered to pay $500,000 reparations and perform 200 hours of community work.

- NZ Herald

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