19 Oct 2010

SFO probing South Canterbury Finance

9:44 pm on 19 October 2010

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has launched an investigation into South Canterbury Finance, over four loans worth tens of millions of dollars made by the failed finance firm to related parties.

The South-Island based lender was placed in receivership in August, costing taxpayers nearly $1.8 billion in payouts under the Government's retail deposit guarantee scheme.

Chief executive Adam Feeley says as a result of inquiries made by the SFO's newly established fraud detection unit, the agency had grounds to suspect a number of related-party transactions involving South Canterbury Finance may have involved false statements or other fraudulent conduct.

Mr Feeley says the loans in question were made over a number of years.

"The essence of the allegation is that the loans and relationships in question should have been disclosed, or may have been required to be disclosed, to both investors and to the Crown as the guarantor of investor funds," he told Radio New Zealand News.

In a statement, Mr Feeley says the matter will have a high priority and will be progressed as quickly as possible.

The SFO will co-ordinate its efforts with the finance company's receivers, the Registrar of Companies and the Securities Commission and will get outside help from private sector insolvency and forensic accounting specialists.

May widen

Mr Feeley says it will be several weeks before the SFO has decided if its investigation will be confined to transactions already identified, or more are brought into the inquiry.

Kerryn Downey, of South Canterbury receiver McGrathNichol, says he passed information to the SFO on transactions he believed were worth investigating.

Mr Downey believes the SFO is investigating deals separate to those he highlighted, including some involving Auckland's Hyatt Hotel.

Mr Feeley says the South Canterbury Finance investigation is an entirely separate matter from the SFO's investigation into the affairs of Aorangi Securities Ltd, which is in its closing stages.

Listen to Adame Feeley on Checkpoint