Acquire Learning scandal: Ex-AFL boss Demetrieu faces court grilling
RICH LISTS EDITOR
11:00PM DECEMBER 6, 2018
Crown Resorts director and former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou is to be grilled under oath about his involvement with failed training group Acquire Learning, which took hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding before collapsing last year.
Mr Demetriou, who was an Acquire shareholder and chairman of the company’s “advisory board”, and its former directors, Mr Demetriou’s nephew Tim Demetriou, racing identity John Wall and Jesse Sahely, will face questioning in the Victorian Supreme Court as part of a liquidator’s examination funded by the Australian Taxation Office.
The move comes amid an investigation into possible crimes committed by directors and officers of Acquire, which was placed in administration in May last year owing $145 million before later being placed into liquidation.
Mr Demetriou is the second Crown director to face legal action in recent weeks, with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission launching Federal Court action against Harold Mitchell regarding allegations of keeping Tennis Australia in the dark about potentially lucrative broadcast bids while he was a director of the sporting body.
Issues to be investigated during the Acquire examinations include whether the company can claw back a total of $15m it loaned to shareholders, including Andrew Demetriou, Tim Demetriou, Mr Wall, Mr Dau and ABC board member Peter Lewis.
The Supreme Court is to hear liquidator Barry Wight’s application for the examinations as early as today, with hearings likely to be held in the new year.
Mr Demetriou declined to comment. Mr Wall, Mr Tim Demetriou and Mr Sahely could not be reached yesterday through their last known contact, Arnold Bloch Leibler partner Justin Vaatstra, but have previously denied Acquire traded while insolvent.
The Australian is not suggesting that Andrew Demetriou, Tim Demetriou, Mr Wall, Mr Dau and Mr Lewis have engaged in any wrongdoing, only that they are being investigated.
In an October circular to creditors, Mr Wight, of Cor Cordis, said that after the examinations he would be “better informed and able to identify the claims against the directors and other officers and executives, and their estimated realisable value”.
Mr Wight said that in addition to the shareholder loans issue he would also explore the possibility of action against the directors for insolvent trading and breaches of their duties. He added that he had reported four crimes allegedly committed by directors of the company to the corporate watchdog — failing to keep books and records, failing to exercise care and diligence, failing to act in good faith and abuse of position.
Despite Mr Demetriou’s title as “chairman” of the advisory board, and Mr Lewis’s title as “financial director”, ASIC records show that neither was ever formally registered as a director of the main company in the training group, Acquire Learning & Careers. Mr Wight told creditors that Mr Demetriou still owed Acquire more than $327,000 that the company loaned to his private company, Katia, in 2015 and 2016.
In total, Mr Demetriou was loaned about $1.7m in 2014 to buy shares in Acquire, a figure that was later paid out to him in the form of a discretionary bonus. The former AFL boss has also previously claimed he was owed $284,083 as a creditor to Acquire.
Mr Wight said Mr Dau owed Acquire $8.9m through his vehicle Road2Hawaii while Tim Demetriou and Mr Saheley owed it $5.9m through their company TJ Consulting (Australia), which was deregistered last month.
Mr Lewis owed Acquire about $100,000 through his company Salpet while Mr Wall personally owed it $6100, Mr Wight told creditors. He told creditors he hoped the examinations would “ascertain the financial capacities of the companies, trusts and individuals involved to provide a better understanding of the recoverability of the loans”.
Mr Wight said he believed Acquire was insolvent from at least August 2016, after which it ran up $22.1m in additional debts.
However, “there are indicators to suggest the company was insolvent earlier”, Mr Wight said. “Investigations regarding the exact date of insolvency are still ongoing,” he said. “The public examinations of the directors and other key officers and executives will further assist in forming a final view on the date of insolvency.”
Acquire was established in 2012 and made huge profits signing up prospective students and jobseekers to education and training courses, receiving fees for referrals as part of the VET FEE-HELP student loan scheme.