Third CBL defendant fights for continued secrecy, had applied for immunity from SFO prosecution

A third person charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after the collapse of a $747 million insurance company is fighting to keep their name secret.

It can also be reported the man unsuccessfully asked Crown Law for immunity from prosecution before being the third to face criminal proceedings after NZX-listed firm CBL folded in 2018.

CBL’s former chief executive Peter Harris and ex-chief financial officer Carden Mulholland have already been facing charges for more than a year.

Today, in the High Court at Auckland, the third accused’s lawyer, John Billington QC, argued before Justice Geoffrey Venning for his client to maintain interim name suppression until his trial next June.

The man, charged with a single count of obtaining by deception, was not in court for the hearing.

Billington said his client’s health concerns were significant and publication of his identity during a stressful litigation process result in a fatal or near fatal consequence.

“I was concerned I had a client who was able to fully participate in the process,” he told the court.

“There is no doubt this man is on the edge of stroke and, or a more severe consequence.”

Billington said publication could prove to be a “tipping point”.

“I accept, naturally, that the stress of facing proceedings is stressful in itself … the issue is, are there any further triggers that might tip the matter further than the fact of facing the proceeding alone?

“Is this a risk the court needs to take in this situation, it was not a risk I was prepared to take as counsel.”

Auckland’s Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey, who is prosecuting the case for the SFO, opposed continued suppression.

He said it was difficult to see the stress of being part of the criminal case would be exacerbated simply by being named.

“The other two criminal participants in this proceedings have been named and Mr Mulholland has tested that through the courts.”

Mulholland had sought continued suppression before his bid was eventually dismissed by the Court of Appeal last year. But Harris, the former managing director of CBL Insurance and CBL Corporation, has seemingly embraced his legal matters.

“I welcome the opportunity to finally bring the wider picture of the CBL saga before the court,” he said after first being charged.

Billington said his client can manage his health concerns with medication, however, asked Justice Venning to err on the side of caution.

“If we see [my client’s] name on the front page of various media and he suffers a stroke … How will any of us feel? We can avoid that.”

Justice Venning reserved his decision but indicated he would deliver it by the end of the week.

Harris and Mulholland are due to stand trial separately from the third defendant in September.

Both men were charged by the SFO in December 2019 after an investigation began in June 2018.

Harris faces five charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, two of obtaining by deception, and false accounting.

Mulholland is charged with theft by a person in a special relationship, obtaining by deception and false accounting.

Both men have denied all the allegations against them.

A group of civil cases are also running concurrently to the criminal prosecutions, including two class actions by CBL’s shareholders.

When CBL collapsed it had a market value of $747m.

Both CBL Corporation and CBL Insurance were placed into liquidation by the High Court in 2018.

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