Defence in Wagner case hears from NNZ boss

NICK KRAUSE
Last updated 15:10 22/11/2012

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The head of Netball New Zealand was happy to continue the national body's multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with a wealthy businessman, despite one of his companies getting into financial trouble, the High Court has heard.

The court is hearing a case brought by Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner against Auckland businessman Robert Gill.

Giving evidence for the defence, NNZ chief executive Raelene Castle said she became aware in early 2010 that BA Partners, a company belonging to Gill, had little hope of continuing after it had lost two key executives, his business partner Malcolm Beattie and Anthony Regan.

Their departure is subject to separate legal proceedings. The court heard today that Gill expects to obtain $2 million from Beattie in the proceedings.

Wagner has accused Gill of asset-stripping his companies to avoid repaying her $340,000. That stems from the sale of 75 per cent of her gardening and fashion websites to him for $700,000 in 2008.

Arbitration last year found in favour of Wagner and awarded her $319,606 plus costs of $21,000.

But Gill and his associated companies refused to pay, Wagner said. Instead he allegedly transferred assets to "fresh" companies creating a shield against creditors including Wagner, and leaving liabilities with companies Digital Partners (DPL) and BA Partners (BAP), the court heard.

Gill is alleged to have funnelled substantial assets into a range of associated companies. The old companies were placed into receivership after the arbitration and were then liquidated.

Gill, cross-examined by Wagner's lawyer John Eichelbaum today, said Premier Events made an average annual profit of about $1m between 2006 and 2009 but that the company became virtually dormant after Beattie and Regan left.

Claims that he received $450,000 from a deal in which he sold the websites to joint venture partner east Auckland publishers Times House Digital were wrong.

Castle said Gill told her in March 2010 that he was unable to continue his work with Netball New Zealand through BAP as it was insolvent. However he could continue working with the sporting body through another of his entities.

Castle said it was not a case of contrivance to asset strip the old company in favour of a new one. They had a lengthy business relationship and she trusted Gill.

She terminated the netball contract with BAP and signed another contract with the new entity, with the primary goal of retaining continuity for Netball New Zealand.

The contract was worth millions but the court suppressed the exact amounts involved due to commercial sensitivity.
The case continues.

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