US firm chasing ex-worker
A New Zealander who has vanished after allegedly embezzling more than $11 million is being chased by his former American employers through the Court of Appeal in a case of "catch me if you can".
New Zealand citizen Jason Dean faces civil claims by California-based marketing materials maker Americhip of creating dummy companies and bank accounts in order to skim contracts over nearly a decade. The company has also claimed Dean, who was responsible for a large part of its business in China between 2003 and 2012, used this money to buy a $2m mansion in North Shore's Mairangi Bay.
But Dean has yet to put forward his response to the Americhip allegations, because he has maintained that the New Zealand courts do not have jurisdiction.
Earlier this year he successfully argued this before Justice Rebecca Ellis, with the alleged fraud taking place mostly in China and the United States.
Yesterday, however, Americhip appealed this decision, frustrated at Dean's apparent strategy to delay the case by not submitting to any jurisdiction.
Americhip lawyer David Goddard, QC, said the issue was essentially a practical assessment of where was the best place to hear the allegations against Dean.
The New Zealand courts were the only place where ownership of the Auckland mansion could be established and any relief found, which meant it was logical to hear the entire case here.
Americhip did not know where Dean was. But because he had not said where he was, nor been willing to deny any of the claims, it made sense to hear them in New Zealand, which was the only jurisdiction that could rule on the property.
While the property was a small part of the overall claim Americhip knew of a joint bank account held between Dean and his father Victor through which money flowed, as well as a daughter he was supporting through university, Goddard said.
"So it makes perfect sense for court to hear the whole claim. It's all that we know about."
Justice Rhys Harrison said Dean appeared to be playing "catch me if you can" with regards to the jurisdiction.
Dean's lawyer David Jones, QC, however said Americhip's argument to have the case heard in New Zealand was the "tail wagging the dog".
It was only because Americhip had followed the money here and been able to find property, which was purchased in 2013, that they said the whole case should be heard here.
But the rest of the plaintiff's claim was essentially based in China, involving a plethora of bank accounts and various people, which made Chinese law applicable to the case. Jones did, however, accept New Zealand was the only court which could hear the claim relating to the Auckland mansion.
Justice Mark O'Regan said because Dean had not said where he was, it had to be assumed New Zealand was the "only game in town right now".
"It's not a game of cat and mouse."
Justices O'Regan, Harrison and Ellen France reserved their decision.