SFO charges businessman Allan Hubbard

MARTA STEEMAN
Last updated 16:41 20/06/2011
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Timaru financier Allan Hubbard

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After a year of pleading innocence, Timaru financier Allan Hubbard faces 50 fraud charges, laid today by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

The SFO said it had completed its investigation into the affairs of Aorangi Securities (ASL), a Hubbard-run investment company, Hubbard Management Funds (HMF); and ASL directors Allan and Margaret, known as Jean Hubbard. The couple were put into statutory management exactly a year ago today.

SFO chief executive, Adam Feeley, said, "after an exhaustive investigation, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to lay fraud charges against Mr Hubbard".

There are no charges against Hubbard's wife.

Hubbard, in his early 80s, would not comment. It was Jean who answered the Hubbard's phone in Timaru today.

"We aren't saying anything ... we're definitely not. You'll just have to get the details from Mike Heron.''

Asked what her reaction to the charges, she said: "I can't comment truly. You can imagine what my reaction is.''

Hubbard's lawyer Mike Heron said he intended to file an application to stop the prosecution at the appropriate stage.

Mr Feeley said that fifty charges under sections 220, 242 and 260 of the Crimes Act had been laid in the Timaru District Court.

Those sections deal with theft by a person in a special relationship, false statements and false accounting. Feeley said the SFO was not laying charges against any other current or former director of ASL.

No other charges would be laid by other agencies involved with the investigations into ASL and HMF, he said.

The one-year-long investigation had relied on help from the Securities Commission - now the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) - and the Registrar of Companies.

The FMA could also have laid charges under section 59 of the Securities Act, but both the SFO and the FMA were satisfied that charges laid by the SFO would address the matters.

Grant Thornton, the statutory managers of Aorangi Securities and Hubbard Management Funds, said they would not comment on the SFO charges laid against Allan Hubbard.

They said the continue to administer their obligations under statutory management and will report to investors at the end of this month.

Mr Feeley said there were aspects of the case which challenged the conventional concepts of serious fraud.

"Whatever the public may think, in considering whether serious fraud has been committed, the motives or lifestyle of an alleged offender are ultimately irrelevant. We have to consider matters such as whether deceit has occurred; the losses caused by that deceit; and whether the facts meet the prescribed elements of one or more criminal offences."

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Mr Feeley said before making a decision to lay charges the SFO gave very careful consideration to the Solicitor General's Prosecution Guidelines, including the issue of whether a prosecution was in the public interest.

"The decision to charge has been reached only after extensive analysis of the evidence, as well as discussions with senior prosecution counsel, including the Crown solicitors and the SFO panel counsel," he said.

"Throughout the investigation we have been aware of the level of public interest in, and support for, Mr Hubbard, and the issues of Mr Hubbard's age and health which have been raised by his lawyers."

"However, we also have to consider the interests of justice and the interests of the investors relative to the evidence we have obtained during our inquiries.

"We are satisfied that, on balance, there is strong public interest in having this matter put before the court, and any issues regarding fitness to stand trial will be matters for the court to adjudicate on."

ONE YEAR ON

The charges come exactly a year after the Government announced it was placing the Hubbards, seven charitable trusts and a Hubbard-run investment company Aorangi Securities under statutory management.

At the same time the Government said the Register of Companies had referred matters to the SFO, which launched a probe into Aorangi Securities the next day.

Three months later two more trusts and two other associated companies were added to the statutory management.

The SFO investigation appeared to have reached its conclusion in early December last year, when the Hubbard's lawyers asked for the investigation to be placed on hold while new information was placed before the SFO.

That was presented to the SFO in early February. Rumours circulated in January that a brain scan from Hubbard was sent as evidence by his lawyers to SFO but the SFO has refused to comment on the speculation.

A legal stoush over who was the pay the Hubbard's legal fees resulted in statutory managers from accountancy firm Grant Thornton seeking High Court ruling. That delayed the investigation another few weeks and the statutory managers have paid $1m of the fees.

Aorangi's investors, about 400, are owed $96m, the sixth statutory manager's report in March said. However, the assets Aorangi had were estimated to be worth $87m to $97m and that included Hubbard's pledge of $50 million to $60m of his own assets to bolster Aorangi.

The sale of the Aorangi assets could take three to four years, the statutory managers said. The investors would not receive any of the interest they were owed.

Aorangi investors were paid 3 cents in the dollar last October and were told in March to expect another 10c mid year.

SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY

Hundreds of Timaru residents marched in up the main street a year ago in protest at the Government's decision.

A group of locals formed the Stand By Hubbard campaign to fight for his release from statutory management.

The once celebrated and media-shy financier who bought South Canterbury Finance about 1960, according to a biography Allan Hubbard: A Man out of Time has constantly protested his innocence

The investigation was prompted by an Aorangi investor complaining in late February to the financial markets watchdog the Securities Commission that no investment statement or prospectus had been given when he or she invested and no information was available on its lending activities.

The SFO has another investigation in early stages probing related party transactions at the failed lender South Canterbury Finance, previously largely owned by Southbury Group, the Hubbards investment company.

That investigation still has a long way to run.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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