Air show sponsors' cash 'all but gone'

Money paid by sponsors to the sputtering Wings and Wheels Over Waikato has largely been spent, according to lawyers.

Ken Ross' case was back in the High Court at Auckland this week and the Commerce Commission alleged he spent money from sponsors at the supermarket as well as buying clothes. He also transferred large sums to personal accounts in New Zealand and overseas which enabled him to spend money even after a court-imposed freeze on all assets.

The court heard how Mr Ross used nearly $70,000 for personal items and moved tens of thousands of dollars from an account containing sponsors' money to his personal accounts.

Nick Flanagan, appearing for the Commerce Commission before Justice Graham Lang, said Mr Ross used the company eftpos card for personal items including supermarket shopping, buying a suit and at a pharmacy.

The commission is looking to protect funds paid to Mr Ross by ticketholders, sponsors and exhibitors a sum believed to be in the millions of dollars.

In March, the commission obtained a court order to freeze the assets and prevent Mr Ross and three associated companies from touching them, as the commission tried to figure out how much money was tied up in the venture.

However Mr Ross, who was not in court, is challenging this and has put in an application to set aside the preservation order.

Mr Flanagan said he opposed this application and that evidence the commission had gathered showed Mr Ross could not be trusted with the money.

He said sponsors' money had been used to such an extent that it was "all but gone" and the concern was now for the ticketholders and exhibitors' funds which were held in two separate accounts.

A number of examples were given to the court where money was transferred to Mr Ross' personal Kiwibank account and overseas to his personal account at the National Bank of Australia (NAB) from the sponsors' account. Mr Flanagan said on one occasion $85,000 was transferred into Mr Ross' Kiwibank account and on February 29, $28,000 was transferred to the NAB account.

"There is very substantial evidence of a real risk that ticketholders' funds will be moved out of jurisdiction (of the court) or expended on personal expenses," Mr Flanagan said.

Mr Flanagan said as far as he could ascertain all ticketholders' money was still accounted for although $250,000 had been withdrawn from the account $100,000 transferred to the sponsors' account and a $150,000 bank cheque made out to another party. The $100,000 was still in the frozen sponsors' account although without this money, the account only contained $25,000, while the bank cheque remained in Mr Ross' possession and had not been cashed.

Phil Ahern, appearing for Mr Ross, said his client had a right to use around $69,000 from show funds for personal use over a 15-month period as "he had to have an income to live on".

Mr Ahern was cut short by Justice Lang who called counsel for both sides into his chamber along with lawyer Simon Judd, who was recently appointed by a group of air show sponsors to protect money they had invested. Justice Lang returned and said that the hearing would be postponed until Wednesday as Mr Judd had been given only limited instructions.


Waikato Times