Abano Healthcare faces legal action by ex-executives

TIM HUNTER AND RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014

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Abano Healthcare is facing legal action on two fronts from disgruntled former executives, but says it sees no merit in either claim.

The first is a $4.5 million lawsuit filed by Michael Timoney, the former boss of Australian subsidiary Dental Partners, over his termination last year.

In a statement to the NZX, the healthcare group said it saw "no merit" in the claim and would strongly defend against it.

In parallel, rebel shareholders Peter Hutson and James Reeves have filed High Court proceedings to try to delay a vote on the future of chairman Trevor Janes.

Abano recently fired Hutson and his wife Anya as executives of their joint venture audiology business, Bay International.

Reeves and Hutson have used the weight of their combined 18.5 per cent share in Abano to requisition a special meeting to try to vote Janes off the board.

Abano published a notice of meeting on Friday last week, three weeks before the meeting date of June 13 and within the legally required time frame.

The Abano board recommended shareholders vote against the resolution, and gave Janes its unanimous support.

Hutson and Reeves are now seeking a new meeting date "not earlier than three weeks and not more than four weeks from 13 June".

In a statement, they said they had applied to the High Court seeking an order to postpone the meeting.

"[We] previously wrote to Abano requesting a date in July," Reeves said. "Abano has ignored our request and set an unrealistic special meeting date."

Abano was providing shareholders with misleading information and had "butchered the meeting process by manipulating the timetable", he said.

Hutson said the application for a court order was aimed at ensuring shareholders had full information before casting a vote.

The pair had spoken to institutional investors, but also wanted to be given enough time to air their concerns with smaller retail shareholders.

In a NZX statement filed yesterday, Abano said it stood by the meeting's timing and saw "no justification for changing a legally valid date".

Abano shares dropped 4 per cent to $6.50 after the announcement, before recovering somewhat to close the day at $6.60.

Hutson and Reeves were involved in a failed takeover of Abano last year by private equity firm Archer Capital. They then argued that Abano's management of the dental business was not delivering value for shareholders.

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