Insurance kickbacks probe
A former senior manager at Bunnings is alleged to have received tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks for routing the company's insurance premiums through an insurance brokerage.
Documents filed in Auckland District Court show Tauranga resident Christopher David Green was charged on June 12 by the Serious Fraud Office with eight counts of corruptly receiving a total of $159,000 in kickbacks from Herbert Insurance Group between 2003 and 2010.
Green could not be contacted by the Sunday Star-Times. He is yet to plead with a further court date set for July 4.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
The charge sheets allege Green received annual kickbacks from HIG for doing business as an agent of big-box hardware retailer Bunnings. It is understood he was a commercial manager there during the period of the alleged offending.
The SFO declined to comment on the case against Green because it was before the courts.
The corruption charges widen the fallout from the collapse of HIG, an Auckland-based insurance brokerage that called in liquidators in March last year.
Liquidators Michael Stiassny and Brendan Gibson of KordaMentha said in their reports that records kept by company principal Grant Herbert were "questionable due to irregularities around the accuracy of information" and large insurers faced a $3.1 million shortfall.
Concerns about the operation of HIG led to the Serious Fraud Office announcing it was investigating the company on May 17, 2011.
Until the collapse of his company, Herbert, 61, was known as a successful businessman.
On May 31 the SFO laid 28 charges against Herbert in Auckland District Court, including allegations he used forged documents, used client payments to fund his lifestyle and paid secret commissions.
Herbert has not yet had a chance to plead but his next court appearance is on July 11.
In announcing the charges against Herbert, the SFO said the HIG principal had failed to forward premiums from clients to insurance, leaving many clients without insurance cover.
Bunnings was unwilling to comment in detail on the case against Green because it was before the courts, but said the episode had triggered a review of company policies.
"Following his departure, Bunnings fully reviewed the internal controls in all areas in which he worked and made changes as appropriate to improve control."
Bunnings is owned by Australian retailer Wesfarmers, a Perth-based conglomerate listed on the ASX with a market capitalisation of more than $44 billion. Questions to the New Zealand firm and its Western Australian parent over the adequacy of its insurance coverage between 2003-2011 went unanswered.
March 1991: Grant Herbert launches his brokerage firm Herbert Insurance Group (HIG).
September 2, 2003: The SFO alleges Chris Green, then commercial manager at Bunnings, accepts his first payment of $17,500 from HIG in return for placing his company's insurance business through Herbert's firm. Green is alleged to have continued receiving annual payments from HIG until August 2010.
March 7, 2011: Herbert liquidates Herbert Insurance, which at its peak had nearly 4000 clients. Administrators later flag discrepancies in the company's trust account. March 17, 2011: SFO announces it is investigating HIG.
May 31, 2012: SFO lays 28 charges against Herbert, alleging the use of forged documents, theft by a person in a special relationship and the paying of secret commissions to Green. The SFO also alleges HIG failed to pass on client premiums to insurers – leaving many without cover.
June 12, 2012: Green is charged with eight counts of corruptly receiving kickbacks from HIG.
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