Former Blue Chip boss Mark Bryers has taken the witness stand in the High Court at Auckland today where he's seeking to be discharged from his 5 1/2-year bankruptcy, saying it will be his last visit to New Zealand.
The Official Assignee has dropped its stance that Bryers may have breached the Insolvency Act by his involvement in an Australian business while a bankrupt, but is seeking, as one of the conditions attached to his discharge from bankruptcy, to have him banned from owning and operating a business in New Zealand in future.
Bryers, who has been operating under the non-de-plume Mark Ryan, has been living in Australia since 2007 and told the court he had no intention of returning to live here.
"This will be my last visit to New Zealand," he said.
The Blue Chip group of companies failed in 2008 owing $84 million to more than 2000 investors. Bryers was adjudicated bankrupt in October 2009 owing $230 million, though his original estimate was that he owed just $173 million. The court was told today he has been a director about 400 times, involving 326 companies, of which 71 have ended up in liquidation.
He failed last November in a bid to avoid appearing in person at today's High Court hearing, with Associate Judge Jeremy Doogue turning down his request to be examined via a video-link from Australia. Bryers had been concerned the hearing could turn into media spectacle.
Normally clean-shaven, the 57-year-old Bryers sported a goatee beard and wore a suit and tie, and appears to have shed a few kilos.
Two witnesses flown in from Australia have given evidence at the hearing today. The two - Robert Hughes and Lawrence Eakin - have known Bryers for many years in various companies and are both involved in the Talos Accounting Group. This was the company Bryers is alleged to have been running under the name of Mark Ryan until he left the company in August last year.
Talos Accounting has so far acquired eight small Australian accountancy firms as part of its longer-term goal to roll up 100 such firms and eventually list on the Australian Stock Exchange. A key part of the company's strategy is said to be to pitch property investments to clients of the accountancy firms it acquires, one of the hallmarks of the failed Blue Chip operation.
Eakin, who was risk manager for Talos and a chairman of Blue Chip-related entity Northern Crest Investments, said it was agreed early in the piece that it would be best for Bryers, who he said was a strategic consultant for the group, should operate under the name Mark Ryan.
"The use of the name Mark Ryan was a risk management strategy because of the odium surrounding the Mark Bryers' brand. We were concerned that his involvement would cause problems for the company and hence the use of the non de plume."
Associate Judge Doogue asked Eakin why the company expected that sort of odium if Bryers was only acting as a consultant rather than employed by Talos.
Eakin said Bryers was acting on the company's behalf in negotiations to acquire small accountancy firms with the owners and their legal advisers and it was felt there could be adverse reaction if his real name was used.
Phillip Cornege, acting for the Official Assignee, spent some time questioning both Eakin and Hughes over who was really running Talos. Under reciprocal legislation Bryers is banned from being a director or manager of a company in Australia while bankrupt.
Sydney businessman Stephen Lacy is listed as the sole director and shareholder of the businesses in the Talos group although he is understood to only work part-time.
Complainants have alleged to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission that the group has not honoured debts and tax obligations and also alleged Bryers is the beneficial owner of a 51 per cent stake in the Sydney-based group.
Hughes said he had known Bryers only since 2012 but Cornege presented a statement Bryers made in 2009 at the time of his bankruptcy that a company, Balboa, which Hughes was the sole director of, would put up $1.2 million for him. Hughes said he didn't recall making that statement or knowing Bryers for that long.
Cornege questioned both witnesses on an organisational chart of Talos management which described Bryers (under the name Ryan) as general manager. But Eakin, who has now left the company and is acting as a consultant to it, said that was incorrect and later amended. All the other names on the list had the correct titles though, he said.
Eakin also said other documents describing nearly all of the Talos management team as consultants didn't mean that consultants were running the company - only some of them had decision-making roles.