Ponzi accused waits for ruling
A long-running case against Nelson businessman David Hobbs, alleged head of a massive Ponzi scheme involving $50 million in a web of 14 unlicensed investment funds, has ended with a reserved judgment in the New South Wales Supreme Court.
Hobbs, one of 19 defendants originally named in the proceedings, has represented himself at the trial, which began on July 4 and ended on Wednesday.
Speaking from Sydney yesterday, he told the Nelson Mail he had no choice because he had been quoted A$670,000 (NZ$850,000) for legal representation, money he didn't have.
He is also no longer represented in Nelson by Phil Bellamy of Duncan Cotterill after a parting both said was amicable.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission, which took the civil prosecution to court, alleges that Hobbs was the mastermind behind the intertwined schemes which shuffled millions of dollars around the world.
Hobbs, who lives in Stoke and has dealt in secondhand Holden cars in the past few years, has firmly denied any wrongdoing since ASIC first got involved, in 2007.
Yesterday he reiterated that he was innocent but said the ASIC lawyers "can make something white look black".
"I think a lot of people don't realise what goes on in the legal system. The most telling point was that evidence that would be helpful to us, ASIC deliberately left out of the proceedings," he said.
He hoped the judgment would not be too far off. "It would be nice to get it behind you."
He wasn't sure when he and his wife would be back in Nelson, he said.
In the past Hobbs has used sticks to help him walk. He had tried to maintain that throughout the trial but it had been exhausting and he had sometimes used a wheelchair, he said.
In a statement updated this week, ASIC claimed the operators of the funds, "including, principally, Mr David Hobbs, of Nelson, New Zealand, and the former Vanuatu company, Future Trading Corporation Ltd", had no Australian Financial Services licences and targeted Australian investors and self-managed superannuation funds.
ASIC worked on the case with the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the New Zealand Securities Commission and the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong.
"Nineteen defendants are named in the proceedings. However, ASIC alleges Hobbs controlled the operation of all 14 funds, and while marketed as separate funds they in fact comprised one scheme."
ASIC said more than 700 Australians invested more than US$42m (NZ$50m) in the funds.
It claimed most of the investors and self-managed superannuation funds were promised access to offshore investment opportunities and/or the wholesale financial market generating returns in the order of 3-4 per cent or more per month and that there was no risk of losing the invested money.
It also alleged other investors were attracted into the funds by promises of a stake in offshore investment companies involved in project investment, principally in China.
"It is ASIC's case that, in fact, investors' funds were dispersed to various offshore accounts including in New Zealand, Hong Kong, and the US and some were also used, as in a Ponzi scheme, to pay monthly returns to other investors. Only a portion of investors' funds were actually invested and, contrary to the promises made, these funds were used to engage in high-risk commodities, futures and options trading in the US."
ASIC alleged Hobbs operated the scheme together with his wife Jacqueline, six residents and one company in New South Wales and 10 international companies.
Its case was that there had been numerous legal breaches including that investors were misled by unlicensed operators and that Hobbs and five others illegally operated schemes and breached their duties as directors.
It was seeking court orders disqualifying Mr and Mrs Hobbs and five NSW residents from managing corporations and operating funds, and financial penalties for Mr and Mrs Hobbs and two NSW residents.
About $25m was frozen by ASIC in 2007 and 2008 and some of this money has been returned to investors.
There is no indication of when Justice Ward will release her decision.
- © Fairfax NZ News