A Hamilton financial service firm claims it is owed more than $4m and alleges one of its employees transferred money to his personal bank account and left New Zealand.
A High Court judge has placed a freezing order over bank accounts of the employee, Richard James Whitham, and a company he directs has been put into interim liquidation.
Neither Whitham nor a representative of the company were in court to challenge the bid for the freezing order and interim liquidation.
But Whitham has denied the allegations in an interview with the Herald and says he is on holiday with his family in Singapore and hopes to return to New Zealand this week.
Hamilton's Worldclear, set up in 2014 by former financial adviser David Hillary, provides foreign exchange and payment services to its customers.
In August last year, the company says that it employed Richard Whitham to help build relationships with local trading banks after difficulties with maintaining relationships with them.
When that approach didn't work, Worldclear changed tack and after discussions with Whitham decided to form a new company, T1 Holdings. This firm would open bank accounts and conduct financial transactions on Worldclear's behalf.
Over the following months, Worldclear paid money into T1 bank accounts and instructed Whitham to process financial transactions from the accounts on behalf of Worldclear.
Whitham, according to Hillary, also set up several Worldclear staff as users of the T1 accounts so they would have access. By May 17 this year, T1 had 26 bank accounts with a total of $4.61m in them.
According to Worldclear, Whitham was in the office on that day processing payments but said he needed to leave early to deal with a personal matter and did not expect to be back the following day.
On May 18, Hillary says he sent a text to Whitham about two transactions due that day.
Whitham allegedly replied saying he was at the doctor but would be home soon. According to Hillary, when his staff tried to access the T1 accounts but were unable to get in, he contacted Whitham again who said "that is weird" and promised to check his own access when he got home.
Hillary sent two other messages to Whitham that morning saying "we need to talk" and "what is happening?"
After receiving no response to the messages, Hillary said he called the banks and was informed that the administrator of the accounts, Whitham, had removed Worldclear staff as users.
"We then called ANZ and asked to access the transaction information, and were informed that [Whitham] had ordered the transfer of almost all of the available funds to his personal account in ASB," Hillary alleged.
At this point, Hillary alleged he went to the address he understood to be Whitham's home address and was told the family had moved three months earlier.
Hillary then made a report to the police and says he was told that Whitham had left the country.
On the same day, Hillary alleged that he found that Worldclear's Dropbox folder had been accessed remotely from a Singapore address and files relating to Whitham's employment as well as folders relating to T1 bank accounts were being deleted.
Hillary allegedly spoke to former neighbours who had purchased furniture off Whitham and had messages from him discussing his leaving.
Based on this, Hillary told the court he believed Whitham had left the country and remaining funds in T1's accounts could be in jeopardy.
Whitham told the Herald he had not taken the money, and was on a planned holiday which Hillary knew about.
"[Hillary] tried to contact me once to say 'where are you' but he knew exactly where I was, and next thing we knew our accounts were frozen," Whitham said.
"So from that point in time we have been working through legal process to get these things undone," he said.
"The majority of the money is still in New Zealand in T1 Holdings bank accounts. I don't know how I can skip the country with all this money when the majority of it is still siting there in New Zealand."
After Worldclear went to the High Court, a freezing order was placed on all assets, including bank accounts, in Whitham's name, or that of his other company Retail Guru as well as those under the control of T1.
In his judgment, Associate Judge Warwick Smith said the allegations by Worldclear had substantial support.
"Worldclear says that T1 was used as a vehicle for perpetrating a fraud on it. It says that the principle perpetrator was its own employee, and the only money involved appears to have been owned by Worldclear," Associate Judge Smith said.
"Worldclear's allegations appear to have substantial support in the apparently abrupt departure of Mr Whitham without any notice to Worldclear, the instructions given by Mr Whitham to the banks to terminate access to T1 accounts by Worldclear employees, and the apparent removal of Worldclear money from a T1 account with the ANZ Bank to Mr Whitham's personal account with the ASB Bank," Associate Judge Smith.
Worldclear's lawyer was not immediately able to comment.