Three repaid giant oil firm, jury told


Three men accused of conspiring to defraud Mobil Oil repaid large sums of money after being sued by the oil giant, a jury in the High Court at Auckland was told yesterday.

Serious Fraud Office prosecutor Rhys Harrison, QC, said Mark Courtney, Keith Child and Sunil Bansal had agreed to repay a substantial amount of money to the oil giant after it took civil action in the High Court in mid-1997.

Courtney, aged 38, of Panmure, Child, 46, now living in Wanaka, and Bansal, 36, of Epsom, deny conspiring to defraud Mobil by using false invoices, rental review summaries and retail supply agreements.

The Crown alleges that Courtney, Mobil's former Auckland regional manager, and Child, a senior territory rep for central Auckland, used their positions to manoeuvre Bansal surreptitiously into six service stations - contrary to company policy which prohibited dealers from running more than one service station except in rare circumstances.

Bansal received large compensation payments - money paid by Mobil to new dealers to ensure they sold Mobil petrol for a certain number of years.

It is alleged that the trio "unlocked the spoils of crime" by issuing false invoices for goods and services never supplied.

On Thursday Mr Harrison said that Bansal had admitted receiving $1.45 million, Courtney $250,000 and Child $180,000.

Continuing his opening address yesterday, Mr Harrison said that if the money had truly belonged to the accused, they would not have repaid it to Mobil when the oil company sued them.

Courtney, who could approve payments up to $200,000, is also accused of two counts of using a false invoice to defraud Mobil out of $35,000, which he allegedly used to pay for his share of a boat.

He is further charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

When the SFO queried the two invoices, Courtney allegedly gave investigators false or fabricated letters suggesting that this was part of a secret "contingency or fighting fund" authorised by top Mobil executives in connection with a Commerce Commission inquiry into price-fixing.

Mr Harrison said suggestions of a contingency fund were rubbish and that Courtney had cynically tried to divert SFO attention away from his blatant fraud and had cast doubt on the integrity of his former superiors, people who had unblemished records.

He told the jury crucial evidence would be given that the Mobil letterheads which were used did not exist at the time the letters were supposed to have been written in late 1995 and 1996.

In a preliminary opening statement, Bansal's lawyer, Paul Davison, QC, appearing with Jacinda McClennan, said that his client denied being involved in any conspiracy, agreement or plot to defraud Mobil.

In critically analysing the evidence, the jury had to consider from Bansal's perspective what he believed or knew and what motivated him.

It was not disputed that Bansal paid money and transferred some vehicles to the others, said Mr Davison. The issue was on what basis it was done.

The jury also had to consider whose money was paid to Courtney and Child - was it Mobil's or did Bansal believe it was his to do with as he saw fit.

Mr Davison said issues for the jury to consider included whether Mobil in fact had a one-dealer-one-site policy; whether Bansal knew it existed; whether Bansal was considered by Mobil persona non grata, and if so whether Bansal knew this and whether there was some illegitimate advantage to Bansal in having an interest in more than one service station.

It also had to consider whether Bansal had tried to conceal his involvement in the service stations from Mobil; whether his payments to Courtney and Child were a means of giving them their share of ill-gotten gains; and whether his actions were done with deliberate, dishonest intent.

The trial, before Justice Noel Anderson and a jury, continues on Monday.

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