Pitcher Partners‘ mother-of-all public examinations kicked off this week and already two liquidators names have been mentioned in despatches as the marathon inquiry into an alleged $100 million phoenixing scheme gains momentum in room 8B of Melbourne’s Federal Court.
Pitcher’s Andrew Yeo and Gess Rambaldi are being funded by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to prise open what may be the largest phoenix syndicate yet uncovered and as part of their investigation wrote to 100 liquidators nation-wide in relation to referrals received from various entities connected to Melbourne-based accountant Phil Whiteman, his wife Sherife Ymer and the A&S Services group of companies.
Insolvency News Online makes no allegation of wrongdoing against any of those identified in the examinations or in documents related to entities under scrutiny by Yeo and Rambaldi and their team in relation to the A&S investigation.
On Monday it emerged that Queensland-based liquidator Travis Pullen had wound up a company that Yeo and Rambaldi allege was fronted by a “dummy director” who was unaware that his identity was being exploited, allegedly by Whiteman as a way of concealing assets.
In a letter from Pullen to the Pitcher’s pair that was tended in court Pullen reportedly acknowledged that there were strong indications that the company was headed by a dummy director.
Yesterday Jirsch Sutherland’s Glenn Crisp was named during examination of witnesses and Insolvency News Online has uncovered documents relating to one of Crisp’s appointments connected directly to Pitcher’s investigation into Whiteman and his alleged collaborators.
On June 13 2018 at meeting of creditors of Punchbowl Fencing, Pitcher’s Lindsay Bainbridge and Will Sier turned up as proxy holders for A&S Services Australia and DNV Accountants & Business Advisors, both of which are in liquidation under the control of Yeo and Rambaldi.
Also on hand was George Khouri, the ATO’s phoenix specialist who has notably been involved in the joint special initiative between the tax office’s Serious Non-Compliance division and Victoria Police’s Project Purana organised crime taskforce.
Although appointed as Punchbowl Fencing’s liquidator back in March 2015, Crisp was in Queensland at the time of the June 13 meeting so Jirsch manager Travis Marchione acted as chair. And Bainbridge proceeded to bombard him.
Why in his Declaration of Independence, Relevant Relationships and Indemnities (DIRRI) did the liquidator neglect to mention that the referrer, one Ronald Tang of Direct Services Pty Ltd, was an employee of the A&S Services Group?
Why, if Tang was the referrer, did a pre-appointment email chain Bainbridge tabled at the first meeting of creditors record communications between Crisp and two staff members of A&S Services but make no reference to Tang or Direct Services?
There was plenty more. Bainbridge was on a roll. He also queried the extent of the referral relationship between A&S Services, Crisp and Jirsch Sutherland and what he regarded were deficiencies in Crisp’s DIRRI.
Further, he advised the meeting that in their capacity as liquidators of A&S Services Yeo and Rambaldi had written to 100 liquidators nationally that had been appointed to clients of A&S Services querying if those liquidators had identified the appointment of dummy directors and/or phoenix transactions.
“Mr Bainbridge noted that the overwhelming responses indicated that the various liquidators did identify offences, including alleged phoenix facilitation and facilitating the appointment of dummy directors,” the minutes said.
“Such a letter was sent to Mr Crisp regarding his appointment to the Company (Punchbowl Fencing) and two other entities.
“The liquidators response did not confirm whether he had identified the appointment of dummy directors or phoenix transactions,” Bainbridge said.
13 days later after the meeting, on June 26, Crisp lodged a replacement DIRRI with ASIC.
In it he disclosed that he had received a $5000 up front indemnity from Punchbowl Fencing director and that Jirsch Sutherland had accepted four referrals from DNV Accountants & Business Advisors in 2014.
But the replacement DIRRI didn’t offer Crisp the opportunity to return fire that he was looking for. So he set to work on an addendum to the minutes of the June 13 meeting and on August 9, 2018 it was lodged with ASIC.
As well as dealing in detail with Bainbridge’s various queries Crisp also takes the opportunity to make some observations about Pitchers’ impartiality.
“I note that Pitcher Partners receives a substantial number of appointments from the ATO and there seems to be some dependency upon the referral relationship with the ATO as a client,” he said.
“I am concerned that Pitcher Partners, as a competitor firm, were seeking to impress its client throughout the meeting in which I was absent by raising the matters set out therein.
“As stated elsewhere, had there been a sincere desire to properly progress matters it would have been open to Pitcher Partners to supply material relevant to my investigations well prior to the meeting which would have allowed my office to make proper inquiries in relation top those matters. That did not happen,” Crisp said.
Crisp also revealed details of a DIRRI Yeo lodged on June 7, 2018 in relation to an unrelated matter where Crisp is a liquidator.
“Mr Yeo states: ‘Pitcher Partners undertakes a substantial number of appointments at the request of the ATO’.”
“The DIRRI goes on to state that ‘Pitcher Partners is not dependant on referrals received from the ATO’. These two statement do not appear to reconcile,” Crisp concluded.
The examinations continue.