SCF trial 'taking enormous toll' on defendant - lawyer

Last updated 05:00 18/08/2014

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The South Canterbury Finance trial had taken "an enormous toll" on defendant Edward Sullivan, one from which he and his family would never recover, the High Court in Timaru has been told.

The trial of former SCF directors Sullivan and Robert White, and former chief executive Lachie McLeod, is in its last days, and in an unusual step was sitting on Saturday to ensure that the trial concludes early this week.

It began on March 12 and has had more than 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 of the case against Sullivan, describing the unrecoverable toll the trial had taken on him.

White's closing was also to be completed with McLeod's closing today, bringing to an end the country's longest and one of its more expensive criminal trials.

Hall said the Crown had portrayed Sullivan, a Timaru lawyer 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 that unlike other finance companies that had 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".

Hall said the investigation came about after a newspaper article.

"After reading a NBR [National Business Review] article, the SFO began a proactive inquiry - one which seized on related-party lending as an issue even before the SFO had obtained a copy of their [SCF's] trust deed and learnt, presumably to its dismay, that there was no restriction in the deed on related-party lending per se.

"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 one inquiry to a part two investigation.

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

Bruce Squire, QC, defence lawyer for White, 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."

The judge 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 them to be emailed to the defendants when I start. That way everyone can leave the court knowing why I have reached the various decisions." Fairfax NZ

- BusinessDay

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