Gary Stevens "lurking in the background" of Nathans debacle: judge

VTL Group chairman Gary Stevens wasn't a director of Nathans Finance but “his shadowy figure was lurking in the background when many significant decisions affecting Nathans‘ business interests were made,” Justice Paul Heath of the High Court said last week.

Sunday, July 10th 2011, 10:26PM 2 Comments



Stevens wasn't among the three former VTL and Nathans directors convicted last week of five criminal offences involving issuing offer documents containing untrue statements.

Nathans went into receivership in August 2007 owing 7,082 "mums and dads" investors about $174 million. Investors have been repaid 3.7 cents in the dollar of their principal with the last distribution in December 2009.

In outlining his reasons in writing for convicting the three, Justice Heath noted Stevens attended a number of Nathans board meetings "and appears to have taken an active role in its affairs."

As well, a fourth former director of both VTL and Nathans, John Hotchins, who pleaded guilty to three of the same charges in March, "instructively ... described Mr Stevens both as his boss and as a shadow director of Nathans," Justice Heath said.

The judge said "Hotchin struck me as an enthusiastic and energetic man who was prepared to take greater business risks than his co-directors."

In his assessment, Hotchin was "someone whom his fellow directors should have realised had to be questioned closely on favourable reports about business developments of which they had much less knowledge, to avoid being influenced unduly by an over-optimistic presentation that was not supported by hard financial data."

Hotchin and Mervyn Doolan founded VTL and Doolan, Roger Moses, who was Nathans' chairman, and Don Young were the three found guilty last week.

They were required to surrender their passports and have been remanded on bail until sentencing on September 2. They each face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $300,000 and "if the offence is a continuing one, to a further fine not exceeding $10,000 for every day or part of a day during which the offence is continued."

However, according to the New Zealand Herald, the judge said he intended to seek a pre-sentencing report "with a home detention appendix."

The Herald reported Justice Heath as saying: "Reparation is likely to be important in this case."

Hotchin was fined $200,000 and sentenced to 11 months home detention and 200 hours community service.

Justice Heath said of Doolan that "I sensed an air of naiveté about some of his business dealings. Mr Doolan was prone to describe business activities and important events in very general terms. While I thought that he came close to being evasive at times, when pressed, he did his best to answer questions truthfully."

Justice Heath said "even a cursory analysis of the narrative of the investment statement and prospectus should have led the directors to the view that the impression conveyed by it was at odds with the real position, as they knew it to be."

Stevens and Moses had charges of breaching securities law dismissed in 2001 although an employee was fined $12,000 in 2002 on similar charges.

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Comments from our readers

On 11 July 2011 at 9:05 am Bruce said:
When is the Justice system going to get tough with theses criminals and send them to jail for a lenghthy term?
Home detention is just a joke.
On 11 July 2011 at 4:07 pm Richard Parker said:
Until further examples are made, few will take the law seriously. However if ever there was a case for " closing the door after the horse has bolted ", this would be it.
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