$200k for Hibernian victims

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
BUSINESS REPORTER
Last updated 05:00 19/10/2012
Susan Terri Hagai
SOCIETY FRAUD: Susan Terri Hagai has been jailed for stealing more than $1.2 from the Hiberian Catholic Society.

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Victims of a major employee theft at the Hibernian Catholic Benefit Society could get an early Christmas present after a settlement was reached with insurers.

A letter to members from Gordon Stewart, the Wellington lawyer who became president of the society in July, revealed that its former fidelity insurers had agreed to pay out $200,000.

Pending talks with liquidators, there could be a payment to members made in December. Mr Stewart said it was unclear how the insurance proceeds would be split between the society and the separate, but related, credit union - which faced the bulk of the losses - but he expected it would be proportional to the losses incurred.

"It goes a small way, it doesn't cover a great deal."

Last year, Susan Terri Hagai of Titahi Bay was jailed for more than four years after pleading guilty to stealing at least $1.24 million over six years. She was an employee of the society.

Hagai told police the funds were used to maintain the family's lifestyle, including overseas trips, and there was little or no prospect the money could be recovered.

A credit union associated with the society has since been placed in liquidation after the Economic Development Ministry rejected a rescue plan.

Founded in 1869, the society has several thousand members across the country, predominantly elderly Catholics. Its services included insurance, mortgages and funeral benefits. In February depositors in the credit union - who had invested up to $40,000 - were warned they may receive as little as 35 cents in the dollar on their deposits, with a shortfall of about $1m. The recovery would depend partly on the outcome of civil litigation against accountancy firm Grant Thornton, the society's former auditor. Mr Stewart said the action against Grant Thornton was ongoing, with no signs of a settlement being reached.

Meanwhile, the benefit society was looking to offload its insurance business but had so far been unable to find an organisation willing to take it on.

Mr Stewart said the cost of maintaining an insurance business was prohibitive given its small scale.

While the group would wind up some of its services, its determination to run a friendly society and provide social benefits to members would continue, he said.

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"We're still solvent, we're still intending to be here in 100 years time.

"These are blips on the road, but they're not the end of the society."

Contact Hamish Rutherford
Business reporter
Email: hamish.rutherford@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @oneforthedr

- The Dominion Post

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