Ex-director admits $103m fraud

By Sharon Lundy

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Gavin Bennett. Photo / supplied
Gavin Bennett. Photo / supplied

A former Datasouth Group director who spent more than $1 million on "various female companions'' has admitted a $103 million fraud.

Gavin Clifford Bennett, 53, today pleaded guilty in Christchurch District Court to six representative charges relating to 900 separate incidents of dishonestly using a document, and two charges of false accounting.

The charges were brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and related to a $103m fraud involving a Ponzi-style scheme.

Bennett set up Datasouth Group to provide information technology-related services, including network design, consultancy and hardware leasing, in the mid-1990s. The group went into liquidation last year.

It was the hardware leasing, which involved finance through South Canterbury Finance (SCF), which led to the SFO charges; Bennett would falsify agreements between Datasouth Finance and its customers, and then present them, as if genuine, to SCF to secure funding.

He also submitted false financial statements to SCF in order to retain the ongoing finance facility.

Bennett used his ill-gotten gains for a high-flying lifestyle, including:

* $A463,000 ($NZ595,290) to rent two luxury residential apartments in the Rocks, Sydney;

* $A900,000 in regular payments to female companions;

* $A429,000 on food and beverages, a "significant amount'' of which was spent at Hemmesphere bar and restaurant Sydney;

* $A161,000 on international air travel for Bennett and, on occasions, companions, including to Argentina, New York, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, New Caledonia, Rio de Janerio, San Francisco, Paris and London;

* $A16,000 on jewellery and flowers, including purchases at Tiffany & Co;

* $A53,000 on corporate taxi expenses; and

* $A163,000 on clothes and apparel, including purchases at Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Barney's and Bloomingdales New York, Victoria's Secret, Paul Smith, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Harrods London.

SFO chief executive Adam Feeley said the resulting financial losses to SCF were at least $23m. That cost would ultimately be met by the taxpayer as SCF was part of the Government Guarantee Scheme.

Datasouth went into liquidation in March last year, leaving 31 staff without jobs.

"The collapse of Datasouth was a significant event in the Christchurch business community and caused widespread losses,'' Mr Feeley said.

"Mr Bennett's guilty plea brings to a satisfactory end one of SFO's largest investigations in recent times.''

Bennett was remanded in custody for sentencing on May 3.

- APNZ

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