May 292017
 

crime-cloud

Inquiries by Parliamentary committees can be a waste of everyone’s time. The Senate’s Inquiry into criminal, civil and administrative penalties for white collar crimes is a good example.

It began in November 2015 and ended in March 2017 (after pausing for 5 months because of the  election). It received 139 submissions, 2 lots of “additional information”, and had a public hearing at which 23 witnesses appeared. It’s report, which carries the grandiose title “Lifting the fear and suppressing the greed” (23 March 2017), runs to 108 pages. The committee said:

“A clear message to the committee from inquiry participants was that white-
collar crime and misconduct can cause serious harms, both at the individual level and
in the community as a whole.”

But despite this statement and the enormous amount of work that went into making submissions, conducting the inquiry and writing the report, media coverage has been almost non-existent. Perhaps news editors thought the subject matter was fairly dry, and/or that the report’s  recommendations were not particularly noteworthy or inspiring or controversial.  Such a conclusion would be understandable. To which I would add, that the report is unlikely to have much of an impact on how we deal with white collar crime.

 THE COMMITTEE’S RECOMMENDATIONS
Recommendation 1 That the government consider reforms to provide greater clarity regarding the evidentiary standards and rules of procedure that apply in civil penalty proceedings involving white-collar offences. paragraph 3.52
Recommendation 2 That the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) consider ways in which the accessibility and usability of the banned and disqualified register might be enhanced, in order to create greater transparency regarding banning and disqualification orders. paragraph 5.24
Recommendation 3 That the government consider making infringement notices available to the ASIC to respond to breaches of the financial services and managed investments provisions of the Corporations Act. paragraph 5.34
Recommendation 4 That the government amend the Corporations Act 2001 to increase the current level of civil penalties, both for individuals and bodies corporate, and that in doing so it should have regard to non-criminal penalty settings for similar offences in other jurisdictions. paragraph 6.55
Recommendation 5 That the government provide for civil penalties in respect of white-collar offences to be set as a multiple of the benefit gained or loss avoided. paragraph 6.56
Recommendation 6 That the government introduce disgorgement powers for the ASIC in relation to non-criminal matters. paragraph 6.57

The committee’s full report is available for viewing and download at the committee’s Parliament of Australia website.

Incidentally, insolvency practitioners will be disappointed that there are so few references in the report to insolvency and liquidation, although potentially recommendation 4 could have an impact in corporate insolvency.

The next part of this blog post contains extracts which reveal “The Committee’s Views”  and the “Table of Contents of Report”.

Continue reading »

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Dec 152014
 

Registered liquidators are aware that they are prohibited by law from giving, or agreeing or offering to give, someone valuable consideration with a view to securing their own appointment or nomination as a liquidator or an administrator of a company, or an administrator of a deed of company arrangement (section 595 of the Corporations Act 2001).

But I wonder how many of them would be aware that giving an assurance of support for a proposed Deed of Company Arrangement may be an inducement under section 595.

The Chief Justice of the South Australian Supreme Court, Chief Justice Kourakis, took this view in his judgment in the case of Viscariello v Macks [2014] SASC 189, handed down on 9 December 2014.

Mr John Viscariello, a company director, alleged that registered liquidator Mr Peter Macks, administrator of two of Mr Viscariello’s companies, wrongfully failed to negotiate and put in place a Deed of Company Arrangement which would have allowed the companies to continue to trade under a changed ownership structure.

There were several other matters adjudicated upon in this case, and in a sense the allegation that the administrator had given an undertaking to the director that he would support a certain Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) became secondary.

But the comments by Chief Justice Kourakis are intriguing.

Chief Justice Kourakis

Chief Justice Kourakis

Mr Viscariello alleged that Mr Macks made certain representations to him and Mr Fred Bart (a businessman and entrepreneur who was a prospective purchaser of the company’s business) in a meeting in November 2001 to the effect that if he (Macks) were appointed as administrator, he would cause the company to enter into a deed of company arrangement reflecting the terms in a Heads of Agreement document, refered to by His Honour as “the proposed Bart DOCA”.

His Honour said:

“I find it unlikely that Mr Macks would have given an unqualified assurance that he would support the proposed Bart DOCA in breach of his duty to investigate the financial circumstances of the Companies and provide opinions to creditors.” [Para 122 of judgment]
….
“It is inherently improbable that he would have made the unqualified representations pleaded by Mr Viscariello.”[Para.125]
….
“If the pleaded representations were made and an agreement or understanding reached to that effect, Mr Macks would have breached s 595 of the Corporations Act and both Mr Bart and Mr Viscariello would have procured him to do so.” [Para.128]
….
“It would be contrary to the public interest to allow Mr Viscariello to recover damages for a misrepresentation which arises out of a failure to give effect to an unlawful arrangement.
(Footnote 76) With respect to the false and misleading conduct alleged against Mr Macks in respect of the 27 November meeting with Mr Viscariello and Mr Bart, I reject Mr Viscariello’s evidence that Mr Macks gave an assurance that he would ensure that the Companies would enter into the Bart DOCA.” [para. 130](Emphasis added)

Footnote 76: Yango Pastoral Co Pty Ltd v First Chicago (Australia) Limited (1978) 139 CLR 410; Brownbill v Kenworth Trucks Sales (NSW) Pty Ltd (1982) 39 ALR 191; Alexander v Rayson [1936] 1 KB 169; McCarthy Rose (Milk Vendors) Pty Ltd v Dairy Farmers Coop Milk Co Ltd (1945) 45 SR(NSW) 266; Mason v Clarke [1955] AC 778.

Click here for pdf copy of judgment by Chief Justice Kourakis on 9 December 2014: Judgment in Viscariello v Macks [2014] SASC 18

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ASIC publishes an overview of statistics and offences reported by liquidators

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Statistics, Offences, Regulation  Comments Off on ASIC publishes an overview of statistics and offences reported by liquidators
Sep 302014
 

In the 2013–14 financial year, 7,218 reports alleging misconduct were lodged with ASIC by external administrators.

That’s one statistic contained in “Insolvency statistics: External administrators’ reports (July 2013 to June 2014)”, a report by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). The report (Report 412) is the latest data from ASIC on liquidations and other forms of external administrations.

ASIC Media Release

The following is from ASIC’s media release of 29 September 2014:

Report 412 Insolvency statistics: External administrators’ reports (July 2013 to June 2014) (REP 412) is ASIC’s sixth report and provides information on the nature of corporate insolvencies, supplementing the monthly and quarterly statistics that ASIC publishes on its website.

The report summarises information from 10,073 reports received during the 2013–14 financial year and includes ASIC’s response to reports of alleged misconduct from external administrators.

Commissioner John Price acknowledged the work of external administrators in carrying out their investigations and reporting to ASIC.

‘External administrators’ reports are a critical source of intelligence for ASIC. In addition to providing more detailed qualitative data, the information obtained from reports helps ASIC focus its regulatory efforts. It also helps us assess whether enforcement action is warranted, or if a director banning action should be pursued.

‘We encourage external administrators to provide these reports and any allegations of misconduct in a timely manner to assist in our supervision of insolvency and corporate governance issues,’ Mr Price said.

Profile of insolvent companies

REP 412 includes information about the profile of companies placed into external administration, including:
•industry types
•employee numbers
•causes of company failure
•estimated number and value of a company’s unsecured creditor debts, and
•estimated dividends to unsecured creditors.

Table 1 summarises key data from the report.

REP 412 shows small to medium size corporate insolvencies again dominated external administrators’ reports. Of note, 86% had assets of $100,000 or less, 81% had less than 20 employees and 43% had liabilities of $250,000 (or less).

97% of creditors in this group received between 0–11 cents in the dollar, reflecting the asset/liability profile of small to medium size corporate insolvencies.

Allegations of misconduct

REP 412 details how often external administrators report alleged misconduct by company officers and the types of alleged misconduct most frequently reported.

In the 2013–14 financial year, 7,218 reports alleging misconduct were lodged with ASIC by external administrators.

ASIC asked external administrators to prepare 802 supplementary reports where external administrators alleged company officer misconduct. This accounted for 11.1% of all reports, which alleged misconduct, lodged in the financial year.

Supplementary reports are typically detailed, free-format reports, which set out the results of the external administrator’s inquiries and the evidence they have to support alleged offences. Generally, ASIC can determine whether to commence a formal investigation on the basis of a supplementary report. While only a portion of the offences reported may result in a formal investigation or surveillance, ASIC uses the information for broader intelligence and targeting purposes.
In both the 2012–13 and 2013–14 financial years, after assessment, ASIC referred 25% and 19% of these cases respectively for investigation or surveillance.

ASIC considers a range of factors when deciding to investigate and take enforcement action and this is detailed in Information Sheet 151 ASIC’s approach to enforcement (INFO 151).

Future improvements: Reporting of alleged insolvent trading and other offences

To assist external administrators in their reporting obligations, ASIC anticipates releasing an amended report template for external administrators (Form EX01) in early-2015.

The amendments aim to capture more accurate information on alleged insolvent trading offences which might provide greater insight into the extent of insolvent trading and enable ASIC to focus our resources on matters that warrant further investigation.

The revised form is a further ASIC initiative to collect better information on corporate insolvencies in Australia. It complements recent enhancements to other forms to capture data in electronic format such as:
•industry statistics for external administration appointments from Form 505 (notice of appointment)
•key information from deeds of company arrangement from an enhanced Form 5047, and
•key financial data from Form 524 (presentation of accounts and statement).

ASIC expects to continue our work with industry to improve reporting including on other offences, such as alleged breaches of director duties.

The full Report 412 is available for download in PDF format from ASIC.

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Jun 272014
 

Recommendation 17 of the Senate Economics References Committee final report (26/6/2014) on the performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is:

“… that  ASIC,  in  collaboration  with  the Australian  Restructuring  Insolvency  and  Turnaround  Association  and accounting  bodies,  develop  a  self-rating  system,  or  similar  mechanism,  for statutory  reports  lodged  by  insolvency  practitioners  and  auditors  under  the Corporations  Act  2001  to  assist  ASIC  identify  reports  that  require  the  most urgent attention and investigation.” (Page 244, para. 15.66)

Source: Final report of Senate Economics References Committee on Performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, 26/6/2014 

Committee’s comments preceding this recommendation

Before making recommendation 17 the Senate Committee’s Report looks at “Reports from industry professionals”  including external administrators. It states as follows (note: I’ve removed its footnotes):

 

External administrators

15.55  The  Corporations  Act  also  places an obligation on liquidators, receivers and voluntary  administrators  (external  administrators)  to  report  suspected  breaches  of the  Corporations  Act  to  ASIC….

15.56  Reports  made  pursuant  to  these  sections  are  referred  to  as  statutory  reports and  are  an  important  source  of  information  about  possible  breaches  of  the  law….

15.57  Liquidators  also  have  the  discretion  to  lodge  further  reports  if,  in  their opinion, it is desirable to draw the matter to ASIC’s attention.

15.58  In 2012–13, external administrators lodged 9,788 reports with ASIC. Of this number,  initial  external  administrators  accounted  for  95  per  cent  or  9,254  reports. ASIC recorded  that 81 per cent of the initial reports  involved  companies with fewer than  20  employees.  The  construction  industry  was  subject  to  the  highest  number  of reports  accounting  for  just  over  24  per  cent.  Of  the  initial  external  administrators’ reports, receivers lodged one per cent under section 422; administrators lodged 3.8 per cent under section 438D; and 95 per cent of the reports were submitted by liquidators under section 533.

15.59  Importantly,  external  administrators  alleged  misconduct  in  more  than two-thirds of reports  (6,761)  involving an overall possible 16,562 breaches. Although this  number  accounts  for  an  average  of  between  two  and  three  breaches  per  report, almost  30  per  cent  of  reports  or  2,493  recorded  no  misconduct. ASIC  asked  the external administrator to prepare a supplementary section 422, section 438D or section 533  report  for  677  of  the  6,761  reports  that  identified  possible  misconduct. In its analysis of the statistics, ASIC explained  that its request for an additional report is  a  function  of  its  assessment  of  risk  based  on  a  number  of  factors,  including,  but not limited to:
*   the nature of the possible misconduct reported;
*   the amount of liabilities;
*   the deficiency suffered;
*   the availability of evidence;
*   prior misconduct; and
*   the advice of the external administrator that the reported possible misconduct warranted further investigation.

15.60  In  a 2007 report, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)  observed that given  the  large  number  of  statutory  reports  received  by  ASIC  each  year  that  allege offences  against  the  Corporations  Act,  it  was  appropriate  that  ASIC  had  systems  in place  to  prioritise  its  regulatory  action,  through  risk  scoring.  It  found  that  ASIC’s recording of statutory report information was accurate to  a high degree. The ANAO recognised  that  ASIC  could  use  a  wide  variety  of  possible  remedies  to  deal  with offences identified in statutory reports or other deficiencies that warranted some sort  of regulatory action. They ranged from warning letters to directors for the less serious offences  to  prosecution  and  potentially  imprisonment  for  more  serious  offences. It noted that where ASIC identified  that a statutory report raised  issues of regulatory significance,  it  sought  further  information  about  the  matter  from  the  external administrator.

15.61  According to  the ANAO  report, ASIC  did  not always obtain that additional information.  Based on its sample, it found that in 40 per cent of instances,  ASIC did not obtain additional information that it had requested. The ANAO concluded:

… the  small  number  of  statutory  reports  subject  to  regulatory  action  by ASIC  each  year  indicates  that  there  is  opportunity  for  greater  regulatory action on these reports.

15.62  Mr  David  Lombe,  President  of  the  Australian  Restructuring  Insolvency  and Turnaround Association  (ARITA)  was of the view that  ANAO’s  2007  findings  were still  relevant  and  applicable. He  noted  the  thousands  of  reports  lodged  with  ASIC each  year  but  not  acted  upon.  In  Mr  Lombe’s  view,  there  was  a  ‘general  perception within  the business community that, if you do certain things at a certain level, there will be no effective review’. He explained further:

“The difficulty that we have as official liquidators is that you get a matter off the  court  list  and  often  that  matter  has  no  funds  in  it,  so  there  are  no available assets. Often that is a process by which directors have deliberately done that—it has been a deliberate course of action. If you report the matter to ASIC and there is no assistance from that space, there is not much  you can do. If you felt really aggrieved by it or you felt that it was a matter that was  of  sufficient  importance,  you  may  be  able  to  persuade  a  firm  of solicitors to act on a pro bono basis, but that is very difficult. I found myself in  that  sort  of  situation  with  Babcock  &  Brown,  where  I  had  inadequate funds to be able to pursue a proper investigation. The only thing that was available to me was to ask creditors to fund me, which they did, which then allowed me to do a public examination, which brought out the conduct of directors and other stakeholders in that company. If you do not have funds in a matter, the courses are very limited.”

15.63  By  way  of  example,  Mr  Lombe  expanded  on  his  concerns  citing  the requirement  to  lodge  a  section  533  report,  which  deals  with  offences  committed  by directors.  He explained that for the liquidator to understand what has happened,  he or she  needs  to

  ‘review the books and records, determine the transactions, try to find out what assets are there, look at insolvent trading and look at preference payments and all those sorts of things’.

  The liquidator is  required to file that report,  which  takes  time. So, according to Mr Lombe,  the reports involve both  time and money, and often  with official liquidations there are no assets at all and, if there are, creditors are effectively paying for the report.  He noted that thousands of  such reports  are lodged  with ASIC but  most  of  them  come  back  ‘no  further  action’.  In  his  view,  it  is  frustrating  for liquidators because they feel, ‘Why am I bothering to do it?’ Mr Lombe concluded that ‘you  can  understand  someone’s  frustration,  where  they  have  reported  offences  and nothing happens’.

15.64  When asked whether liquidators, in their  statutory  reports,  could assist ASIC to  distinguish  the  very  serious  breaches  from  the  less  so,  ARITA  indicated  that  it ‘might be a useful reform’. After considering the matter further, ARITA informed the committee that if it were consulted, it could assist ASIC to determine a risk scoring profile. It explained further, however:

“But we consider that the decision on how the information required by s533 is ‘risk-scored’ for action is ultimately one for the regulator and its decision and  methods  should  not  be  publicly  disclosed.  For  one  thing,  this  would appear to give the  ‘green light’ to the  commission of certain offences that are deemed not serious enough to warrant action by ASIC.”

15.65  ARITA  also  stated  that  ‘a  more  co-operative  approach  between  ASIC  and liquidators  should  also  be  pursued’.  The  committee  believes  that  ASIC  and  ARITA should  work  closely  together  to  develop  a  more  effective  and  efficient  reporting mechanism that would assist ASIC to identify the alleged  serious  breaches from the less so.”


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“Nudges” may be used by ASIC to persuade company directors to comply

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Forms, Offences, Practitioners Association (IPAA), Regulation  Comments Off on “Nudges” may be used by ASIC to persuade company directors to comply
Jun 132014
 

A story by Michael Murray of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency & Turnaround Association (ARITA) brings news that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has commissioned the Queensland University Business School to investigate “approaches that can be used to improve director co-operation with liquidators and director compliance with their statutory and other obligations”.

ASIC appears to be looking for styles of approach that are more scientific and more savvy.

The news story suggests that an approach to be considered is that of the “pure nudge”, the “assisted nudge” and the “shove”.

A “nudge” is defined in a government paper entitled “Influencing Consumer Behaviour: Improving Regulatory Design” (see below) as a change to choice architecture which influences the decision of an individual without restricting, or raising the price of, the set of choices available”.  The paper says that “under certain conditions, some evidence suggests that nudge interventions can be cost-effective relative to more direct or traditional forms of government intervention; used alongside existing regulatory approaches; targeted in influence; and easy to implement.”

ASIC seems to be keen to try the “nudges” experiment. In its April 2014 submission to the Financial Systems Inquiry ASIC recommends that it should have a more flexible regulatory toolkit such as would enable it to intervene in the financial product and service supply chain by way of ‘shoves’ and ‘nudges’ to achieve regulatory outcomes that more effectively meet the needs of investors and consumers. It suggests that simple “nudges” are likely to achieve cost-effective results in many cases.

Nudge

ARITA’s news story of 6 June 2014 is headed “How Directors of Insolvent Companies [Should] Behave” and says:

“Liquidators will be aware that director compliance can be variable and that non-compliance can ultimately call for prosecution of the directors, adversely distracting liquidators from their duties and imposing costs on creditors. The behavioural economics approach seeks to influence and direct director behaviour in order to promote positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions in order to achieve compliance.

At a simple level, it could be applied to refine the form and content of letters sent by liquidators to directors stating their obligations. Improvement of the report as to the company’s financial position (the RATA) is another coalface example, ARITA research showing that it can be a daunting, unduly complex and difficult document for directors to complete: Peter Keenan, Terry Taylor Scholarship Report 2011. In some circumstances, small changes can give effect to significant behavioural changes.

ARITA sees this research as very worthwhile and it mirrors similar approaches being taken by the Australian government in other areas – see Influencing Consumer Behaviour: Improving Regulatory Design, Office of Best Practice Regulation, Department of Finance and Deregulation. Among many issues, that paper discusses the concepts of a “pure” nudge, an “assisted” nudge and ultimately a “shove”, in seeking regulatory compliance. Such approaches are used by revenue authorities in Australia and internationally. For example, in the UK, a change in the wording of letters sent to those owing income tax was claimed to have resulted in an extra £200 million in tax being collected on time.

ARITA also sees potential for research into the behaviour of directors at the pre-liquidation stage, that is, in managing a failing company that is heading towards collapse – what may usefully be used to prompt directors to take action or seek advice? to have a more real perception of the company’s financial position? to more positively react to possible insolvent trading liability and to the company’s creditors? and many other such issues.

We also see potential for this research to be applied in personal insolvency.

ARITA is monitoring the progress of this research and its outcomes. Any comments or questions? to Michael Murray, Legal Director, ARITA.


Link: News story by Michael Murray of ARITA: “HOW DIRECTORS OF INSOLVENT COMPANIES [SHOULD] BEHAVE”
Link: Paper from Office of Best Practice Regulation in 2012 “INFLUENCING CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR: IMPROVING REGULATORY DESIGN”
Link: ASIC’s April 2014 submission to the Financial Systems Inquiry

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ASIC compares penalties for corporate crime

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Offences, Regulation, White collar crime  Comments Off on ASIC compares penalties for corporate crime
Mar 212014
 

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has completed a review of penalties in Australia for corporate wrongdoing to assess whether they are proportionate and consistent.  The review compared ASIC’s penalties with those in other countries; those of other Australian regulators; and across ASIC’s regime.white-collar-cartoon-01

 

Results of this review were released yesterday (20 March 2014) in Report 387 – “Penalties for corporate wrongdoing”.

Key findings

ASIC says the key findings show that:

  • on the international comparison —
    • while our maximum criminal penalties—jail and fines—are broadly consistent with those available in other countries, there are significantly higher prison terms in the US, and higher fines in some overseas countries for certain offences;
    • there is a broader range of civil and administrative penalties in other countries, they are higher, and they include the ability to remove financial benefit from wrongdoing (i.e. disgorgement);
  • on the comparison with other Australian regulators—
    • the maximum civil penalties available to ASIC are lower than those available to other regulators and are fixed amounts, not multiples of the financial benefits obtained from wrongdoing; and
  • on the comparison across ASIC’s regime—
    • there are differences between the types and size of penalties for similar wrongdoing. For example, providing credit without a licence can attract a civil penalty up to ten times greater than the criminal fine for those who provide financial services without a licence.

ASIC media release

In releasing the report ASIC Chairman Greg Medcraft said:

“Effective enforcement is critical for ASIC in pursuing our strategic priorities of promoting fair and efficient financial markets and ensuring confident and informed investors and financial consumers. It depends on outcomes that genuinely deter corporate wrongdoing. The public expects ASIC to take strong action against serious corporate wrongdoers. Those who break the law and cause severe damage should face tough penalties. This will make them and others think twice about breaking the law. Tough penalties have a powerful deterrent effect.”

jailfree

__________________________________________________________________________

NOTE by author: Report 387 does not appear to review penalties for summary insolvency offences.  To read my paper on this subject, “Convictions for summary insolvency offences committed by company directors”, regarding the Australian scene, CLICK HERE
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Jul 262013
 

An Enforcement Outcomes report has been issued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for the six months from January to June 2013 (Report 360).

It is the fourth of its type since ASIC abandoned its Prosecution Reports. But unlike those reports – upon which I based my paper, “Convictions for summary insolvency offences committed by company directors” , a detailed comparison of prosecution outcomes over the years 2006 to 2010, including the sections of the Corporations Act under which enforcement action was taken and the fines imposed – the new Enforcement Outcomes reports provide far less information.

In the part of the  latest Enforcement Outcomes report that mentions summary insolvency offences, the reader is simply told that:

“As part of our liquidator assistance program, 249 directors were successfully prosecuted for summary offences concerning a failure to assist an external administrator.” (paragraph 86)

Similar brief references are made in the three previous reports.

So what, if anything, do these limited figures say?

About all we can do is compare the latest figure with those from the previous 18 month period.

In the six months  from July to December 2012 the comparative number of directors successfully prosecuted under the liquidator assistance program was 275. (Report 336, paragraph 91.)

Further comparisons with the two earlier Enforcement Outcomes reports might not be all that meaningful, because those reports give figures on summary “proceedings against” directors rather than the current classification of “successful prosecutions” against directors.  That said, the reports for the six months to June 2012 and for the first six months (to December 2011), put the figures at 196 and 208 respectively  (see Report 299, paragraph 48 and Report 281, paragraph 39 )

But according to ASIC, readers need to be cautious when making comparisons of such data. The Enforcement Outcomes report 360 states (at paragraph 18):

“Comparisons between individual enforcement reports have some limitations. This is because no two enforcement actions are the same. For example, there may be differences in the complexity or seriousness of the allegations. However, over a two-year period, it is possible to identify the types of conduct or sectors that are the focus of ASIC’s enforcement activity in the longer term.”

This statement – minus the final sentence – was also used in the Media Release that accompanied the report.

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Too many liquidators failing to provide adequate disclosure to creditors on relationships

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Laws, Insolvency practices, Offences, Regulation, Standards  Comments Off on Too many liquidators failing to provide adequate disclosure to creditors on relationships
Jul 242013
 

When the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released its report on supervision of registered liquidators it bemoaned the fact that its compliance checks had found a 10% increase in inadequate declarations, up from 46.9% in 2011 to 56.3% in 2012.

In the accompanying Media Release ASIC Commissioner John Price was fairly blunt:

“The increase in inadequate declarations concerns ASIC. Liquidators must make full disclosure to creditors when it comes to their independence. Given our guidance, and education programs through the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia (IPA), there is no good reason for such a failure rate.”

Under the Corporations Act 2001 liquidators and administrators (other than those appointed by the Court) are required to make written declarations to creditors concerning indemnities they have received and relationships they have, or have had, with certain defined “persons” within the preceding 24 months. Both declarations are to be made and sent to creditors before the first meeting of creditors is held. The Declaration of Relevant Relationships and Declaration of Indemnities are referred to collectively in the insolvency profession as a DIRRI.

Fawlty Dirri

 

An “inadequate” DIRRI is described in ASIC’s report (para 56) as one which:

(a) fails to disclose a relevant relationship in pre-appointment dealings and/or, where such a relevant relationship has been identified, adequately explain why it does not create a conflict of interest;

(b) fails to disclose all companies involved in appointments to a group of companies, and whether or not circumstances existed between the group entities that may give rise to a conflict and, if so, how the appointees would manage those issues; and/or

(c) is not signed by all appointees.

More detailed guidance on how to make sure a DIRRI is adequate was given to registered liquidators in an email sent to them on 28 June 2013 by Adrian Brown, leader of ASIC’s Insolvency Practitioners Team.

The email extract below is Mr Brown’s description of “seven key areas for improving the likelihood that your DIRRIs do comply with the law, relevant professional standards and the IPA’s Code of Professional Practice.”

“1. Disclose pre appointment dealings/advice

Provide meaningful information about the nature and extent of pre-appointment meetings (regardless of the nature of the meeting or dealing, be it face to face meetings, telephone discussions or email/ other electronic communications) with the company’s directors and any of their advisors.

2. Disclose relationships

Disclose all relevant relationships in accordance with the Act, professional standards and the IPA Code to ensure full disclosure and transparency. We suggest you consider:

· how the relevant relationship might impact your ability to act in the best interests of creditors; and

· whether there is a reasonable chance that creditors might consider that independence is, or appears to be, compromised by that relationship if it were to subsequently come to light.

3. Provide a reason why a relationship does not result in a conflict

Give a reason why you believe each relevant relationship does not result in a conflict of interest or duty. The reasons provided must be specific to the appointment and should not simply be a restatement of example reasons provided in the IPA Code.

Merely stating that a relationship will not affect your independence, or that you received no payment for pre-appointment advice or meetings, is NOT a “reason”.

4. Disclose when appointed to a group of companies

Where the appointment is to a number of companies in a group, the DIRRI should specifically refer to each company and cite a reason why you believe that multiple appointments will not result in a conflict of interest or duty.

You should also consider what steps you must take should you become aware of an actual or potential conflict after the appointment.

5. Disclose external administrations with common directors

Documented conflict checks undertaken pre-appointment should show if you or your firm acted, or continue to act, as external administrator of another company with the same or a common director where the appointment occurred within two years before the new appointment.

Where this occurs, the relationship should be disclosed together with the reason why you believe the new appointment will not result in a conflict of interest or duty.

6. Disclose indemnities and other up-front payments

Disclose full details of the nature and extent of all non-statutory indemnities and up-front payments. This should include stating whether there are any conditions governing the indemnity, including what the indemnity can be used for.

7. Review and sign the DIRRI

It is vital that you carefully review every DIRRI before signing it. All appointees must sign the DIRRI.”

ASIC’s message is taking a long time to get across to some liquidators …

Three years ago (May 2010) Mr Stefan Dopking, then ASIC’s leader of the Insolvency Practitioners & Liquidators Stakeholder Team, wrote to registered liquidators to reveal the findings of its compliance review of DIRRIs in 2009. What ASIC found then was strikingly similar to its findings in 2012, as this extract from Mr Dopking’s letter shows:

“The review identified a number of areas where we believe the adequacy of disclosure needs improvement.  In particular, our general observations are that:

  • a large number of Declarations did  not adequately disclose the nature of the relationships or provide adequate reasons to explain why the disclosed relationships did not result in a conflict of interest or duty;
  • Declarations  did  not  clearly  articulate  whether  the registered  liquidator’s  firm  (i.e. partners or related bodies corporate) was included in the Declaration;
  • the majority of Declarations did not disclose the nature and extent of pre appointment meetings and advice;
  • prior or contemporaneous appointments as external administrators of other companies with common directors were not adequately disclosed in over 20 instances;
  • many Declarations did not provide sufficient information to adequately identify the party providing an indemnity or sufficiently disclose the nature and extent of the indemnity provided;
  • many Declarations were not signed by both joint and several appointees (ASIC is of the  view that each appointee must consider whether any relevant relationships exist that require disclosure and the Corporations Act 2001 (‘the Act’) requires each appointee to sign the relevant Declarations); and
  • it was not evident from the minutes of the meeting of creditors in many cases that Declarations were tabled at the meeting of creditors as required by the Act3. Minutes  of  the  meeting  of  creditors  should  evidence  compliance  with  this statutory requirement.”

The law requiring liquidators to prepare DIRRIs for creditors came into effect in January 2008.

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