Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Dominion Finance suppression ongoing

Paul Cropp (left) and Robert Whale pleaded not guilty to charges by the Serious Fraud Office. Cropp has been found guilty, while Whale was found not guilty. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Paul Cropp (left) and Robert Whale pleaded not guilty to charges by the Serious Fraud Office. Cropp has been found guilty, while Whale was found not guilty. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A man who escaped conviction following the Dominion Finance trial is likely have his name suppressed permanently.

The man was found not guilty this morning on three charges of theft by a person in a special relationship by Justice Graham Lang following a five-week trial in the High Court at Auckland earlier this year.

Following the man's acquittal, Justice Lang said name suppression was granted in a High Court order last year and that he did not have the authority to revisit it.

While the suppression could be lifted by the Court of Appeal, prosecutor Brian Dickey said the Crown took a neutral position on the issue.

The original order granting name suppression and the reasons for doing so are, in turn, suppressed.

Dominion Finance director Robert Barry Whale was also found not guilty this morning on the charges he faced.

However, former Dominion Finance chief executive Paul William Cropp was found guilty on four charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.

The Serious Fraud Office, which brought the proceedings against the men, alleged the trio knowingly and deliberately breached the requirements of Dominion's debenture trust deed or that of its sister company, North South Finance.

A debenture trust deed dictates the terms and conditions between debenture holders (investors) and the company accepting the funds.

The SFO contended that each of the accused intentionally caused or assisted Dominion or North South to make loans without trustee consent to related parties using investors funds.

One of these loans was made to a company called Norfolk Manor, which was part of a joint venture arrangement between property developer John Williams and former
Dominion director Terry Butler, who died last month.

In 2004, Williams took over a stalled property project on Bassett Road in Remuera, which had been started by former league player Matthew Ridge.

As part of the arrangement, Butler was to procure funding from Dominion to purchase and complete the ailing project.

Between 2004 and 2008 Dominion advanced Norfolk Manor around $8.7 million and according to Justice Lang's decision today, this was a related-party loan.

As such, Dominion's trust deed prohibited the loan being made without the trustee's written consent.

Whale was one of the six directors who approved the loan to Norfolk Manor and played an integral part in implementing the arrangement between Butler and Williams, the judge's decision said.

But Whale said during trial that he had never read Dominion's trust deed and today
Justice Lang said he was left in a state of reasonable doubt as to whether, between 2004 and 2007, the director knew of the prohibition on lending to related parties without prior trustee consent.

Whale was therefore found not guilty on the charge linked to this loan.

Other transactions discussed during the trial involved $11.9 million being transferred from North South to Dominion when it was experiencing liquidity problems.

In regard to these transactions, Justice Lang reached a similar decision on Whale's trust deed knowledge and found him not guilty.

But the situation was different for Cropp, who said he was aware of the limits of related-party transactions in the trust deed but that it would be sufficient to retrospectively apply for trustee consent.

The judge said this "flied in the face of plain wording of the trust deed" and "would prove completely unworkable in practice".

Justice Lang referred to Cropp as "the architect" of one of the transactions in question and believed he did know of the need to get prior written consent from the trustee.

Cropp was found guilty on all of the four charges he faced. He was released on bail and is due to be sentenced on May 23.

Justice Lang said the man with name suppression, who was only charged in relation to the $11.9 million advanced from North South to Dominion, had become involved some of the transactions "very late".

He was found not guilty on the three charges and acquitted.

When giving his decision this morning, Justice Lang said that the accused had not gained personally from any of the transactions discussed at trial:

"I also need to make clear that it has never been a part of the Crown case that any of these accused acted in a way that was designed to bring money into their own pocket," the judge said.

Dominion Finance:

* Dominion Finance Group and North South Finance were sister companies and operating subsidiaries of the NZX-listed Dominion Finance Holdings.

* Both offered property and commercial loans.

* North South went into receivership in July 2010 owing $31 million to 3900 debenture holders, who are expected to get back between 65c and 70c in the dollar.

* DFG went into receivership in September 2008 owing almost 6000 investors a total of $176.9 million.

Receivers estimate that debenture holders will recover between 10c and 25c in the dollar.

- NZ Herald

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