Official liquidators, John Frederick Lord, a former partner of accounting firm PKF Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers (PKF), and Atle Crowe-Maxwell, a current partner of PKF, have been penalised for not disclosing to the Supreme Court of New South Wales that they had a commercial relationship with the petitioning creditor in hundreds of liquidations.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has cancelled Mr Lord’s registration as an official liquidator. Mr Crowe-Maxwell has been required to enter into an undertaking with ASIC.
The following is the media release from ASIC dated 26 August 2011:
“ASIC has cancelled the registration of one NSW-based liquidator and required a second to enter into an undertaking, under section 1291 of the Corporations Act 2001 (the Act), after the liquidators consistently failed to disclose conflicts of interest in more than 100 administrations to which they were appointed.
John Frederick Lord, 59, a former partner of accounting firm PKF Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers (PKF), had his official liquidator registration cancelled because, from 8 April 2004 to 6 March 2009, he did not disclose to the Supreme Court of New South Wales that he had a commercial relationship with the petitioning creditor of 225 companies in respect of which he consented to act as official liquidator.
Atle Crowe-Maxwell, a current partner of PKF, also failed to disclose the same information to the Court for 105 administrations in which he consented to act as official liquidator, over the period from 19 July 2007 to 6 March 2009. As a result, ASIC has required Mr Crowe-Maxwell to enter into an undertaking with ASIC.
Following its investigations, ASIC formed the view that Mr Lord and Mr Crowe-Maxwell’s acceptance and maintenance of the role of official liquidator in these circumstances while at the same time both being indirect shareholders – and in the case of Mr Lord, being a director as well – of debt collector, Premium Collections Pty Limited (Premium Collections), was a breach of their duties as fiduciaries to reveal potential conflicts of interest.
Mr Lord’s de-registration as an official liquidator comes into effect immediately.
ASIC Commissioner Michael Dwyer said ASIC considered it in the public interest to take action against Mr Lord and Mr Crowe-Maxwell.
‘ASIC’s decisions highlight the need for practitioners to be aware of their overriding obligation to both be and be seen to be independent,’ Mr Dwyer said.
‘The independence of liquidators underpins, and is the foundation of, an effective and efficient system of corporate insolvency.’
Mr Lord and Mr Crowe-Maxwell have the right to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of ASIC’s decision.
Mr Lord was a director and indirect shareholder of Premium Collections, a company that went into voluntary administration on 22 April 2009. A liquidator was appointed to Premium Collections on 27 May 2009. Mr Crowe-Maxwell was an indirect shareholder of the same company.
Premium Collections provided debt collections services for workers compensation insurers who were nominees of WorkCover. Two of those insurers were the largest clients of Premium Collections.
Premium Collections issued demands on behalf of the insurers to company policyholders whose workers compensation insurance premiums were unpaid. If the premiums continued to remain unpaid, Premium Collections recommended that their client, the relevant workers compensation insurer, make an application to wind up the debtor company.
From February 2008, Premium Advisory Pty Limited and PC Legal Pty Limited provided legal services to the insurers in respect of the winding up proceedings. Mr Lord was an indirect shareholder of both Premium Advisory and PC Legal. Mr Crowe-Maxwell was an indirect shareholder of Premium Advisory.
For the purpose of the winding up applications, Mr Lord and Mr Crowe-Maxwell consented to act as official liquidators to the debtor company. Each consent to act provided to the Court did not refer to the existing commercial relationship with the insurer that was the petitioning creditor.
The liquidator of Premium Collections lodged a supplementary report with ASIC on 19 April 2010 under section 533(2) of the Act. ASIC undertook its own investigations which resulted in the decisions to cancel Mr Lord’s registration and require an undertaking from Mr Crowe-Maxwell.”
Although ASIC has cancelled Mr Lord’s registration as an “official liquidator” it appears his registration as a “registered liquidator” will remain intact for a little while longer. ASIC has two registers for liquidators – one for “official liquidators” and the other for “registered liquidators” . A search on 28 August 2011 reveals that Mr Lord is not on the former but is still on the latter.
However, this distinction is probably of no practical consequence in this case, because Mr Lord decided some time ago to resign from all his appointments. On 15 August 2011 he told the NSW Supreme Court that he is to resign as a partner of the accounting firm PKF on 31 October 2011 and intends to cease practising as an insolvency practitioner”. Also, he stated that ” He ceased accepting appointments as an external administrator on 30 April 2011 (and) intends to resign as liquidator of all companies in which he holds appointments.” See the judgment in the matter of the Resignation of John Frederick Lord and the companies listed in the Schedules of the Originating Process  NSWSC 917.
[A “registered liquidator” can accept appointments in voluntary liquidations (such as creditors’ voluntary liquidations under Section 497 of the Corporations Act 2001), and appointments as a voluntary company administrator or a deed of company arrangement administrator. But only an “official liquidator” can act in compulsory liquidations/court liquidations.]