Home World Business Last call: One.Tel liquidator lays the ghost for Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer

Last call: One.Tel liquidator lays the ghost for Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer

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James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch get to lay a ghost from their youth to rest this week when One.Tel holds a final meeting for creditors and shareholders on Thursday, at Sydney’s Masonic Centre, and bring the sorry saga to an end. 

“The last thing that really we were processing over the last two months was the final dividend,” said KordaMentha’s now retired managing partner, Steve Sherman

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As One.Tel’s liquidator, the collapsed telco consumed half of his 32 years at the firm. It returned 28¢ in the dollar to One.Tel’s unsecured creditors owed $338 million, including big names like Optus, Telstra and tech giant Cisco.

“It’s just the last last process we’ve got to go through,” Sherman said of the final meeting. 

Steve Sherman was summoned to a meeting of the top people at One.Tel in early 2001. He had never heard of the mobile ... Steve Sherman was summoned to a meeting of the top people at One.Tel in early 2001. He had never heard of the mobile phone company at the time. Photo: Jessica Hromas

“We have no idea if any shareholders will turn up.”   

CBD is guessing that Packer and Murdoch will not show up to mourn its passing. Their family companies lost a bomb when it collapsed in 2001. And then there was the $40 million the Packer and Murdoch companies had to cough up in 2014 to settle legal action.

The liquidator was seeking $244 million in damages from them over their withdrawal of underwriting support for a $132 million capital raising. The duo claimed they had been “profoundly misled” about the financial state of the company. 

Ernst & Young’s Brian Long had been called in to assess the state of the mobile services reseller and reported that the company needed up to $320 million to keep it afloat. So the dynamic duo had a point. 

Steve Vamos. Steve Vamos. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Interestingly, Packer, Murdoch and Long renewed their association at Network Ten. We know how that ended.

They were among the billionaires who supported Long’s appointment as chairman in December 2010, soon after they raided the share register. 

Illustration: John Shakespeare. Illustration: John Shakespeare. 

Long resigned last July with the last capital raising. Ten collapsed in June when Packer, Murdoch and fellow billionaire Bruce Gordon, refused to extend their guarantee of the broadcaster’s debt.      

Bank on it 

Austrac has taken legal action against Ian Narev‘s Commonwealth Bank. On Friday, ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft confirmed it is investigating the bank’s board – led by Catherine Livingstone – over its non-disclosure of the alleged money laundering breaches since 2015.  

So it may be time to update the bank’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Disclosure Statement. As of Friday evening, still it said: “CommBank has not been the subject of any money laundering or terrorist financing-related proceedings, investigations, sanctions or punitive actions.”     

The bank’s policy statement states that “the group identifies and reports suspicious behaviours by: Submitting, when appropriate, suspicious matter reports to Austrac.” It is safe to assume there will be a lot of money spent on how you could define “when appropriate.” 

It is also good to know that the policy also states: “The Group endeavours to protect itself from being used for illicit activities by: Only dealing with legitimate customers and to protect against our products being and services being used utilised by money launderers, terrorists financiers or anybody that chooses to support these types of individuals.” 

Dark Knight 

Let’s face it. The only thing people want to know from the results announcement this week from Kiwi giant, Fletcher Building, is how the hunt for a new chief executive is going.

The only certainty is that its chairman, former Commonwealth Bank boss, Sir Ralph Norris (Auckland Knight), might be looking for someone a bit less volatile than the CEO he recently dumped: Mark Adamson

You get the feeling that Adamson never quite made the adjustment needed to jump from the world of private equity to life atop one of New Zealand’s most prominent corporations. 

As one former board member said, Adamson was not afraid to “fart in church”. 

Forget about the gaffe – revealed the day he was fired – calling his underlings at the spectacularly underperforming construction unit “pompous old farts”. 

This the guy who said in 2014 that Australia needed a “dose of Margaret Thatcher” and accused the Aussie government of being “all talk” when it comes to infrastructure spend and in need of a tax reboot. “No one wants to live in Sydney,” he also declared. 

And who can forget that memorable interview where he basically accused the Fletcher board of being full of status conscious old farts with no idea what he was doing. 

Adamson said his chairman at the time, Ralph Waters, told him: “I don’t necessarily agree with what you are doing but I didn’t give you the job to interfere.” 

No wonder the critics have been so scathing. 

“How can Fletcher Building, which has a high-powered board of directors, have such poor visibility of its profit outlook?” queried Milford Asset management’s head of investment, Brian Gaynor.  

“The company has effectively been controlled by a small executive team with an autocratic approach towards directors.”  

Sir Ralph would still be wincing at that one.   

Follow CBD on Twitter. Got a tip? ckruger@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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