SCF 'not a den of thieves', court told

Unlike other finance companies, South Canterbury Finance was not a den of thieves intent on deceiving the public of its money, the high court has been told.

The trial in Timaru of former SCF directors Ed Sullivan and Robert White and former chief executive Lachie McLeod is in its last days, and in an unusual step was sitting today to ensure the trial concludes early next week. It began on March 12 and has had over 60 sitting days in front of Justice Paul Heath.

The three accused face 18 charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office following SCF's collapse and the resulting $1.58 billion payout under the Crown guarantee.

Pip Hall, QC, wrapped up the closing for Sullivan, bringing the case to an end for the lawyer and describing the unrecoverable toll the trial had taken on him. White's closing also commenced and will be finished on Monday, then followed by McLeod's closing, bringing to an end the country's longest and more expensive criminal trials.

Hall said unlike other finance companies that have become notorious, "SCF was not, as the Crown would have your honour believe, a den of thieves that was peopled with managers, and run by directors who were engaged in sharp practices that were intended to deceive the investing public, to dupe people out of their money and line their own pockets."

He said the Crown had portrayed Sullivan, who faces nine charges, as a dishonest man.

"Mr Sullivan was said by the Crown to have a tenuous grasp upon the truth.

"What has been said about Mr Sullivan is not borne out by the facts nor the documents relied upon.

"These charges, the Crown's allegations and the trial have taken an enormous toll on Mr Sullivan personally and financially. Whatever your honour's verdicts, he will never fully recover, nor will his family. But at least not guilty verdicts will go some way to repair the unfair and unjustified tarnishing of his reputation."

Hall said the investigation came about after a newspaper article.

"After reading an NBR article, the SFO began a proactive enquiry - one which seized on related party lending as an issue even before the SFO had obtained a copy of their trust deed and learnt, presumably to its dismay, that there was no restriction in the deed on related party lending per see.

"Within days and for no obvious reason in terms of information that had come to light, but perhaps because SCF was thought to be a high profile scalp, the SFO had escalated matters from a part 1 enquiry to a part two investigation.

"Led by an inexperienced case manager who was supported by junior and inexperienced staff and little management structure, the SFO enquiry bumbled along overlooking key documents."

Defence counsel for White, Bruce Squire, QC, described the retired accountant as a man of integrity, backed up by character statements from witnesses.

"Each in their own way testified to the honesty and integrity of Mr White, personally and professionally and to the reputation for honesty and integrity he holds within the community. The clear effect of that evidence, it is submitted, is that it is simply not within Mr White's DNA to act dishonestly or recklessly in any aspect of his life, and in particular in relation to his professional responsibilities."

Justice Heath has pushed the verdict date out to October 14.

"I will initially give the verdicts, then propose to give a summary for why each of the verdicts have been entered. You will appreciate the full verdicts will be lengthy and I propose they be emailed to the defendants when I start.  That way everyone can leave the court knowing why I have reached the various decisions."

The verdict would be delivered between 9.30am and 11.30am in Timaru. 

The trial continues on Monday.

The Timaru Herald