Feb 252017

Melb Uni
Researchers at Melbourne University have issued their third and final report on investigations into insolvency fraud committed through the use of phoenix companies.

The 162 page report, issued on 24 February 2017, is titled Phoenix Activity: Recommendations On Detection, Disruption And Enforcement.

In the Executive Summary the authors state:

Harmful phoenix activity, left unchecked, has the capacity to undermine Australia’s revenue base and the competitive ‘level playing field’. It is wrong that legitimate business operators, paying taxes, wages and other debts, might be driven out of business by those engaging in harmful phoenix activity. Minimising business distrust caused by harmful phoenix activity can lower the cost of finance and make it more widely available. If less tax revenue is fraudulently avoided, the economy and society as a whole benefit. If fewer employee entitlements are lost as a result of harmful phoenix activity, there is likely to be less reliance on the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, freeing up government resources for other purposes.

What was described in earlier reports as “fraudulent phoenix activity” is described in the final report as “harmful phoenix activity”.

CLICK HERE to read and/or download a copy of the report.

The authors are Professor Helen Anderson, Professor Ian Ramsay, Professor Michelle Welsh and research fellow Mr Jasper Hedges.

Their Phoenix Project (“Phoenix Activity: Regulating Fraudulent Use of the Corporate Form”) “seeks to enhance Australia’s economic stability by determining the best methods of addressing fraudulent use of the corporate form without unduly inhibiting its proper use”. The project was launched in 3 years ago.

Analysis and highlights of the report will be posted here in due course.

Dec 042015

The Senate Economics References Committee has criticised the contempt that some directors show for company laws, the “mild” consequences of non-compliance and the low likelihood that unlawful conduct will be detected.

In its report “Insolvency in the Australian construction industry: I just want to be paid” – published 3 December 2015 – the Senate Committee states:

The committee considers that the estimates of the incidence of illegal phoenix activity detailed in this report suggest that construction industry is being beset by a growing culture among some company directors of disregard for the corporations law. This view is reinforced by the anecdotal evidence received by the committee which indicates that phoenixing is considered by some in the industry as merely the way business is done in order to make a profit.

The committee is particularly concerned at evidence that a culture has developed in sections of the industry in which some company directors consider compliance with the corporations law to be optional, because the consequences of non-compliance are so mild and the likelihood that unlawful conduct will be detected is so low.

This culture is reflected in the number of external administrator reports indicating possible breaches of civil and criminal misconduct by company directors in the construction industry. Over three thousand possible cases of civil misconduct and nearly 250 possible criminal offences under the Corporations Act 2001 were reported in a single year in the construction industry. This is a matter for serious concern. It suggests an industry in which company directors’ contempt for the rule of law is becoming all too common.

[from Executive summary, Phoenixing (page xix) and paragraph 5.100 (page 87)]
Continue reading »

Nov 122015

Transcripts have now been published for all of the public hearings of the Senate inquiry into insolvencies in construction industry. Phoenixing of companies is the main topic discussed. Several insolvency practitioners have given evidence, and at the hearing in Sydney on 28th September the insolvency profession was criticised by the leading participant, Senator Doug Cameron. At the public hearing in Melbourne on 29th September the Walton Constructions case was discussed in detail by the insolvency practitioners initially appointed as external administrators.

A list of the public hearings and those who appeared as witnesses is provided below. Continue reading »

Jun 192015

(19/6/2015) A lively public hearing before the Senate Committee looking into insolvency in the Australian construction industry has been told by several speakers that sub-contractors should be protected by requiring head contractors to place money in trust funds. The Committee also heard about debt collection methods, outlaw bikie gangs and new allegations concerning events leading up to the collapse of Walton Construction in October 2013.

Those appearing before the Committee on 12 June 2015 included Mr Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the Construction and General Division, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), representatives of the Subcontractors Alliance, Project Resources, Masonry Contractors Association of NSW, EcoClassic Group Pty Ltd and Erincole Building Services Pty Ltd.

MORE TO COME: At the close of the day Senator Cameron said: “Chair, there might be other issues once we have a look at the Hansard. We might need to get some of this group back again further on. This inquiry is going to run for a bit of time yet, so we will need to have a look, see what you said and come back.”

The official Hansard transcript of the hearing on 12 June 2015 was recently published on the Parliament’s website. A PDF copy of the 56 page transcript may be downloaded from that site by clicking here.

Senate Committee told about phoenix activity in construction industry

 Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Law, Official Inquiries, Regulation, White collar crime  Comments Off on Senate Committee told about phoenix activity in construction industry
May 292015

Parliament website
The Senate Committee established to inquire into “Insolvency in the Australian construction industry” – which is code for illegal phoenix activity in the construction industry – has received written submissions from industry bodies, unions, contractors associations, superannuation funds, insolvency practitioners, the ATO and the ASIC. A total of 18 submissions were received and are available for download from the Parliament of Australia website. Below is a screenshot of the list of submissions.

Submissions to committee

May 212015

Slap with feather … (updated 4 December 2015)

Case 3

Australian Financial Security Authority – Media release: (NSW) Hull – Bankrupt pleads guilty to three offences under the Bankruptcy Act

Wed 02 December 2015

A man was sentenced for disposing of property within 12 months prior to becoming a bankrupt with intent to defraud his creditors and having made a false declaration on his Statement of Affairs. Mr Denis John Hull was sentenced in the Downing Centre Local Court on 24 November 2015 following a guilty plea being entered to having disposed of property within 12 months prior to becoming a bankrupt with intent to defraud his creditors and to having made a false declaration on his Statement of Affairs.

On 31 March 2012 Mr Hull received a total of $21,175.44 from the sale of two parcels of shares authorised for sale on 26 March 2012. On 10 April 2012 he became bankrupt via Debtor’s Petition, by which time he had disposed of monies totalling $16,000 received from the sale of shares. In his Statement of Affairs completed on 5 April 2014, Mr Hull failed to disclose the sale of the two parcels of shares, and failed to disclose the existence of the bank account into which the share proceeds were subsequently deposited.

During the proceedings Magistrate Milledge remarked that the offending was “quite deceitful and very worrying”. She later stated that the offending was “despicable, mean and criminal”, but acknowledged that it was clear that Mr Hull accepted that as demonstrated in his letter to the court. In passing sentence, Magistrate Milledge gave consideration to Mr Hull’s age at the date of the offending; the fact that he had previously managed to lead a trouble free life; and that his recent efforts to repay the monies showed remorse; and remarked that it was her view that whilst there was serious criminality she saw it as something that was done at a critical place in life and understood that this was why Mr Hull had done what he had done, noting that this did not excuse the offending.

Mr Hull was sentenced and was ordered to enter into a 2 year good behaviour bond in the amount of $200 with nil conviction to be recorded pursuant to Section 19B(1)(d) Crimes Act 1914. Magistrate Milledge noted that no restitution order would be made as this was being taken care of.

The matter was prosecuted by the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.;

Amazing … (updated 11 August 2015)

Case 2

Australian Financial Security Authority – Media release: (TAS) Smith – Discharged bankrupt faces court and imprisonment for failing to disclose financial details and withdrawing cash of $72,600

Thu 06 August 2015

A dairy farmer formerly of King Island, Dominic Luke Smith was prosecuted in the Launceston Court of Petty Sessions on 24 July 2015 for removing $72,600 from his bank accounts in 2012, prior to and just after the date of bankruptcy.
Mr Smith also failed to keep appropriate books and records relating to his business transactions for five years prior to his bankruptcy and failed to disclose information as required by the trustee. Mr Smith was not able to account for how he spent a $100,000 loan and failed to produce bank account statements and cheque butts when requested by his bankruptcy trustee. Mr Smith pleaded guilty to 15 offences under the Bankruptcy Act and was sentenced to a total effective sentence of 4 months’ imprisonment, released on a $1,000 two-year good behaviour bond. The matter was prosecuted by the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Case 1

Australian Financial Security Authority – Media release NSW (McElwaine) – Nine-month bond for offence against the Bankruptcy Act

Thu 14 May 2015

A NSW woman has pleaded guilty to gambling away more than $137,000 from the sale of her property rather than paying creditors before declaring bankruptcy with debts of $438,000. Dee Why resident Bridgett McElwaine was sentenced in the Downing Centre Local Court on 12 May 2015 after pleading guilty to an offence against the Bankruptcy Act. Ms McElwaine filed for voluntary bankruptcy in October 2012 with debts of $438,000 mostly from the use of 22 credit cards. Before her bankruptcy, Ms McElwaine had received proceeds of more than $137,000 after selling her property in Frenchs Forest, NSW. She withdrew more than $96,000 in the 12 months before her bankruptcy and told the court she ‘blew the lot’ on gambling instead of making the money available to her creditors. In sentencing Magistrate Goodwin noted a jail term was available for Ms McElwaine’s serious offence and that a clear message needed to be sent to the community about the unacceptable nature of that behaviour. Ms McElwaine was convicted and placed on a nine-month good behaviour bond, recognisance of $500 and to accept Community Corrections Service supervision. The case was prosecuted by the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.Media release NSW (McElwaine) – Nine-month bond for offence against the Bankruptcy Act


Oct 252013

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has focused its recent submission to the inquiry by the Australian Senate into “The performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission” on the issue of phoenix company activity.

Union logo

The AMWU claims that “ASIC’s failure to adequately hold directors to account has cost millions of dollars worth of unpaid entitlements for employees nationwide. The time is now for action to be taken, impunity to end, and for unscrupulous directors to be held accountable.”

The AMWU submission (21 October 2013) makes four recommendations, namely:

1) Increasing resources and funding to ASIC so that it can properly investigate corporate misbehaviour.

2) A comprehensive review and amendment of s 596AB of the Corporations Act to provide stronger safeguards for employee entitlements and allow for more successful actions by ASIC and liquidators.

3) Introducing a reverse onus procedure by which a director, where there has been an adverse liquidators’ report lodged against them, will be required to ensure that they have acted honestly and responsibly in relation to company affairs.

4) Increasing ASIC’s legislative powers to hold directors and officers personally responsible for unpaid employee entitlements, with a particular focus on phoenix activity.

In expanding on and explaining these recommendations the AMWU says:

1) “ASIC is under-resourced to handle the thousands of complaints submitted to it every year. Regardless of what legislative or regulatory reforms are undertaken, without additionally funding, ASIC will not be able to protect the interests of even the most vulnerable of parties, such as employees. There needs to be a commitment to replace impunity with accountability, and increased resources and funding to ASIC must be the driving force behind this.”

2) “The intention behind s 596AB was to “deter the misuse of company structures … to avoid the payment of amounts to employees that they are entitled to prove for on liquidation of their employer”. This intention has not materialised. Instead, the criticism that s 596AB will prove to be a “toothless tiger… so hard to prove that nobody will be effectively prosecuted” has been proven true. This recommendation would allow for ASIC to, more easily, bring proceedings against directors who have compromised employee entitlements through corporate restructures. This would have a threefold effect of protecting employee entitlements, holding dishonest directors to account, and deterring similar conduct.”

3) “This recommendation is modelled upon Irish legislation under the Companies Act 1990 (Ireland) s 149. In Ireland, where an adverse liquidators’ report has been lodged, directors must ensure that a large amount of equity capital is invested in the new company (at least £100 000 with a minimum of £20 000 paid up in cash) or are required to prove in court why they should not be required to do so. This reverse onus procedure would reduce the detection and compliance burden on ASIC.”

4) “The AMWU submits that continued review of the anti-phoenix activity measures implemented be undertaken, especially in light of the first anniversary of the enactment of the Corporations Amendment (Phoenixing and Other Measures) Act 2012 (Cth).”

In support of its submission the AMWU gives its summary of the following recent cases:

• Steel Tube Pipe Group
• Forgecast Australia Pty Ltd (AMWU v Beynon [2013] FCA 390)
• Carlton Sheet Metal Pty Ltd
• Huon Corporation
• Paragon Printing Ltd

The inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Economics began on 20 June 2013. Submissions were to close on 21 October 2013. The Committee is due to report by 31 March 2014.

Sep 272011

On 26 September 2011 former liquidator Stuart Ariff was  found guilty of various charges brought under the NSW Crimes Act and the Corporations Act. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has  issued the following media release.  (The photo of Mr Ariff is from The Australian.)

“Former liquidator Stuart Ariff was today found guilty by a jury in the New South Wales District Court on all 19 criminal charges brought by ASIC. The offences relate to Mr Ariff’s conduct while he was the liquidator of HR Cook Investments Pty Ltd (in liquidation) (“HR Cook Investments”) during the period 9 June 2006 to 29 March 2009. Mr Ariff was found guilty on 13 charges under section 176A of the NSW Crimes Actconcerning the transfer of funds totalling $1.18 million with intent to defraud HR Cook Investments. Mr Ariff was also found guilty on six charges under section 1308(2) of the Corporations Act 2001of making false statements in documents lodged with ASIC recording receipts and payments relating to HR Cook Investments. The NSW Crimes Act charges each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The Corporations Act 2001 charges each carry a maximum fine of $22,000 or imprisonment for five years or both.

Mr Ariff’s conditional bail was revoked and he was remanded into custody. The matter will return to Parramatta District Court on 25 November 2011 for sentencing.

The matter was prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.”

Budget 2011: Tax Office director penalty notices (DPN) extended and tightened

 Insolvency practices, Tax debts, Taxation Issues, White collar crime  Comments Off on Budget 2011: Tax Office director penalty notices (DPN) extended and tightened
May 112011

Under the heading “countering fraudulent phoenix activities by company directors”, the Australian Government has announced in the Budget that with effect from 1 July 2011:

  • the director penalty regime will be extended to superannuation guarantee amounts, making directors personally liable for their company’s failure to pay employee superannuation;
  • the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will be given the power to commence recovery against directors under the director penalty regime, without providing a 21 day grace period, for certain unpaid company liabilities that remain unreported after three months of becoming due; and
  • in certain circumstances directors and associates of directors will be prevented from obtaining credits for withheld amounts in their individual tax returns where the company has failed to pay withheld amounts to the ATO.

The Budget paper describes fraudulent  phoenix activity as:

“… which involves a company intentionally accumulating debts to improve cash flow or wealth and then liquidating to avoid paying the debt. The business is then continued as another corporate entity, controlled by the same person or group and free of their previous debts and liabilities.”

This measure is estimated to result in an additional $260 million in revenue in fiscal balance terms over the forward estimates period. There is a related increase in ATO departmental expenses of $22.1 million over the same period. In underlying cash terms, the estimated increase in receipts is $245 million over the forward estimates period.

See http://www.budget.gov.au/2011-12/content/bp2/html/bp2_revenue-07.htm

Apr 122011

“When ITSA (the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia)  identifies criminal behaviour such as this, it will investigate the matter and pursue the offender to the full extent of the law”.   So said Mr Jeff Hanley, Assistant National Manager of ITSA’s Enforcement unit in a media release commenting on the case of Mr Peter David Wilson of Sea Lake, Victoria.

While ITSA may well pursue offenders to the full extent of the law, the sentence in the Wilson case again raises the question of whether, generally speaking, the judiciary in Australia  regards bankruptcy offences as relatively trivial.

Mr Wilson’s crime was that he signed a Statement of Income declaring his annual income to be significantly less than he earned. In support of this false Statement of Income he provided an Australian Taxation Office Notice of Assessment which, enquiries revealed, he had altered to show a taxable income that was less than it actually was.

As required by the Bankruptcy Act, Mr Wilson had been making fortnightly income contributions.  But he fell behind in the payments. When requested by his Trustee to complete an Annual Statement of Income Mr Wilson “saw a way of not having to make the contributions by falsely lowering his annual income to his Trustee”.

“This offender deliberately fabricated documents to avoid disclosing his true income and therefore pay less by way of a return to his creditors” said Mr Hanley.

“In a Record of Interview with ITSA Investigators, Wilson made full and frank admissions about his offending – stating he intentionally altered the document so as to reduce his income for the purposes of not having to pay compulsory income contributions.”

The penalty? Mr Wilson pleaded guilty and was released on a $1000 recognisance to be of good behaviour for 12 months. A further condition imposed was that Wilson continue to make fortnightly payments in reduction of his debt to ITSA.

Of course, we do not know all the facts nor the character and circumstances of Mr Wilson at the time he appeared before the court.

But one wonders whether light sentences such as this would have any detterent effect at all on other would-be offenders with  fraudulent intent.


Author: P Keenan 12/4/2011.   Disclaimer: The material published on this blog is general in nature. It is made available on the understanding that the Author is not thereby engaged in rendering professional advice.  Before relying on the material in any important matter, users should carefully evaluate its accuracy, currency, completeness and relevance for their purposes, and should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.