HIT with a tax bill, Horsham locksmith Tim Batchelor thought the best thing to do was to follow a family friend’s advice and get some help from a city accounting firm.
But it was a decision that nearly destroyed his life.
Instead of just receiving tax advice, Mr Batchelor had inadvertently walked into an allegedly $100 million phoenix scam run out of the offices of businessman Philip Whiteman.
Seven years later in 2016 when the tax office raided Mr Whiteman’s Richmond office in Melbourne, Mr Batchelor would discover that his identity had allegedly been stolen by his accountant and he had been made the director of no fewer than 10 companies without his knowledge.
The court heard the 10 companies borrowed heavily to buy a suite of luxury homes and cars before onselling them to other companies at knock-down prices – all without Mr Batchelor’s knowledge.
Mr Batchelor is now in dire financial and legal straits as creditors move to enforce the debts for companies he was never involved in, while the properties that was bought under his name – houses in inner city enclaves Elwood, Balaclava and Travancore, a beachhouse in Jan Juc, a $300,000 Porsche Panamera and a Range Rover – are long gone.
“I’m sorry, it’s just a bit overwhelming hearing all of this,” a clearly shocked Mr Batchelor said as he was presented with mortgages and car finance contracts with his name on them which he said he never signed.
“I drive a Nissan Navara,” he said.
Liquidators Andrew Yeo and Gess Rambaldi of Pitcher Partners are investigating allegations creditors, including the Australian Taxation Office, were ripped off when more than 360 companies were phoenixed by a suite of companies controlled by Mr Whiteman, either in his own name or, as the court heard this week, under one of his 28 aliases. The alleged scam includes creditors in NSW and Victoria.
Scores of dummy directors, people who are named as a sole director but have nothing to do with a business, have been unearthed as part of the investigation. Some are homeless, some are drug users and some are unemployed. Other dummy directors are financially struggling business owners who became clients of A&S Services for pre-insolvency advice or, in the case of Mr Batchelor, run-of-the-mill taxation advice.
Mr Batchelor told the court that in about 2012 he became suspicious after a series of creditors, including Westpac called in the loan for the Porsche, for debts of which he was unaware.
“I rang Mr Whiteman, he said give them (the creditors) his number and he would sort that out. He said it all must be one big mistake.
“He didn’t say anything about the properties or company directorships… The phone calls stopped (after I gave the creditors his number) and I was of the understanding that it was all a big mistake and it had all been dealt with."
Mr Batchelor was also presented with an affidavit that had been filed in the Supreme Court of Victoria under his name which was filed in defence of a property claim brought against a company he had no knowledge that he was a director of.
The affidavit was filed by Toorak lawyer Jonathan Kenny of Kenny Kalus Intelex, who Mr Batchelor said had never been his lawyer, indeed he had never engaged a solicitor. Mr Kenny later appeared in court on Mr Batchelor’s behalf to defend the case allegedly without Mr Batchelor’s consent.
Mr Kenny will be called to give evidence at a later date. Mr Kenny was earlier this year cleared of contempt of court in a separate matter involving binary options trader One Tech Media.
Earlier on Tuesday, the court heard facilities manager Josh Nguyen was enlisted by Mr Whiteman to be a dummy director after driving his heroin addict friend to Mr Whiteman’s office to pick up $500 in cash.
However, Mr Nguyen told the court that while he had agreed to be a director of one company, he later learned he had been made a director of 11 companies without his knowledge.
With a clean credit rating, Mr Nguyen was told that by being a director he could assist other people who were struggling with bad credit ratings.
Soon Mr Nguyen’s mailbox was stuffed with company documents and notices from the tax office and creditors.
“I started to receive all of this mail for these companies… I never signed for these companies, I was never told about these companies and he kept on saying come on in and we’ll give you money for it.
“Every single day we were receiving more and more mail."
He would later be told he faced a $1 million fine for unpaid company taxes.
It was similar situation for how bathroom fittings salesman Kevin Verapen became involved in the alleged scam.
Mr Verapen agreed to be a company director after visiting Mr Whiteman’s office to pick up his daughter from his then partner who worked with Mr Whiteman.
Mr Verapen told the court he consented to becoming a director of nine companies only to learn his signature had been forged and he was now a director of 27 companies including the head company of Mr Whiteman A&S Services.
Mr Verapen said that when the ATO raided the offices he demanded that he no longer be a company of A&S given he was not involved in the operations of the business.
Mr Verapen told the court that when he challenged Mr Whiteman about the troubles with A&S, Mr Whiteman said “you are the director, I am just a salesperson”.
“I didn’t know what he could do to incriminate more, although I was angry, I was wary about what he might be able to do. He could forge my signatures, what else could I do?”