Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

National MP appeals $340,000 civil dispute

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 today appealing her case against a "shrewd" Auckland businessman after she lost a $340,000 civil dispute in the High Court.

The Christchurch central MP went to the High Court at Auckland in November 2012 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 June last year, 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.

Wager told the Herald this morning she was appealing the outcome of the High Court case, seeking judgement that she is entitled to the $340,000.

The appeal is due to begin this morning in Wellington before Justices Christine French, Ellen France and Forrest Miller.

Wagner was required by Justice Ellis to pay costs of $47,585 and disbursements of $21,377 to the defendants, but a lawyer associated with the case said it was agreed these would not be paid pending the appeal.

- NZ Herald

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