Forget the race for Virgin Australia, the real action is in the Federal Court where class action specialists Phi Finney McDonald, backed by international litigation funder, Woodford, will emerge to lead the class action against Westpac over the bank’s alleged anti-money laundering breaches.

A rival Westpac class action by Johnson Winter Slattery and its funder Buford Capital will lapse. Their decision came a month after the Federal Court judge John Middleton ordered the competing applicants to exchange their funding details, along with the number of shareholders the law firms had signed up.

PFM managing director and Slater & Gordon alumni Ben Phi advised they had been retained by a higher number of institutional and retail investors. The next case management hearing is listed for late June. 

Margin Call gathers JWS had also wanted to pursue allegations against former Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer, who resigned in the wake of the Austrac investigation in November, but those allegations were not tested and will not be pursued by PFM.

Elizabeth Collins SC and Dion Fahey have been leading PFM’s class action, while Westpac is represented by Matthew Darke SC, instructed by Gilbert + Tobin.

The lead plaintiff in the PFM case is self-funded retiree Edmund How Fen Yong who bought 8000 Westpac shares in 2017.


No silver lining

Last trading at 1c, the ASX-listed gaming company Silver Heritage Group was on a cold streak. Now the casino minnow has gone into voluntary administration, with KPMG’s Ryan Eagle and Amanda Coneyworth handling the process.

Since mid-March they’ve had to close their operations, which includes the Millionaire’s Club and Casino in Nepal’s Kathmandu, along with Tiger Palace Resort Bhairahawa, Nepal.

The company’s main lender, Asian hedge fund Oceania Capital Partners, had provided additional funding for Silver Heritage in January, but were unwilling to provide further support, its Hong Kong-based managing director and co-founder Mike Bolsover advised.

Silver Heritage has been operating and managing casinos across Asia since 2003, aimed at enticing Chinese and Indian gamblers to their resorts.

It was floated in 2016 with accountant David Green as its chairman for the first two years. The 40c a share float had CLSA and EL&C Baillieu its co-lead managers.

The former Fairfax Media director Michael Anderson was on the board when it floated, but quit after four months, as the board’s high turnover set in.

Just a year into his directorship, the entrepreneur James Spenceley resigned last October as its non-executive chairman, leaving Bellevue Hill-based Matthew Hunter as the longest surviving non-executive director. He was joined by the Sydney lawyer Darryl Kaplan who has been on the board just five months.

The company posted $US35m ($54.3m) losses for the year to December 2019, deeper than the $US11m loss in the previous year.

There had been a thwarted Vietnamese venture that impacted the company last year.


Rich pickings

Sir Michael Hintze was again the highest-ranking Australian expatriate billionaire on the Sunday Times Rich List, for the eighth time.

He ranked 95th on the list of 1000, with his wealth unchanged at £1.5bn ($2.82bn) in the The Australian’s London-based sister publication.

Despite what the Sunday Times described as the “most rapid and comprehensive revaluation ever undertaken”, this year’s Rich List saw just four fewer billionaires.

Nearly two-thirds of the 147 billionaires saw their wealth either flatline or fall slightly over the past year.

The second wealthiest Australian-born UK resident on the list was Elisabeth Murdoch, who rocketed to 123rd spot at £1.2bn, after her private wealth was buoyed by a family distribution following the sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney last year.

All up there were eight on the list with strong links back to Australia, with the third wealthiest being Rick Smith who was estimated to have a £538m worth, down £23m in 260th place. The Scottish emigrant to Melbourne in 1959 was a driver at PFD Food Services, which supplies cafes and restaurants with about 2500 products. It was in 1988 that he bought out the business from his partners, including Melbourne’s Liberman family.

Veteran Perth-based but British-born miner Mark Creasy came in at 369, with an estimated £355m, and set to see his wealth grow from a mine under development in Myanmar that is rich in lead and silver deposits.

Pet food tycoons Tony and Christina Quinn, in 408th spot, were valued at £319m, down £11m.

Greg Coffey was given a £280m net worth, just up £7m, sitting in 465th place. The 49-year-old Sydney-born hedge fund star, nicknamed “the Wizard of Oz”, saw his London-based Kirkoswald Asset Management deliver returns of 28 per cent last year.

In contrast, Hintze’s CQS hedge fund secured 11 per cent gains for its flagship directional opportunities fund during 2019, although reports from the City suggest the fund was now nursing a double-digit percentage decline post-COVID-19.

Hintze, a former Australian Army captain who grew up in Wahroonga, has donated to the Australian bushfire relief in recent months.

In 425th place was ETF-czar Graham Tuckwell with a £309m worth, down £5m. He pioneered the listing of softer commodities such as livestock and energy on the stockmarket. The Canberra-born investment banker reportedly holds about 5 per cent of his wealth in gold bullion.

Sir James Dyson was Britain’s richest person, with the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur worth £16.2 billion.

The total wealth shared by all 1000 entries has fallen by 3.7 per cent to £742bn, while the minimum wealth needed for this year’s Rich List stayed at the 2019 level of £120m.


Sales slump

The Ray White network secured $2.5bn in April sales, with its headline sales tally down 20 per cent on its $3.2bn in sales last April, which was impacted during the market downturn ahead of the federal election.

April was also down 30 per cent on April 2018, when some $3.67bn sales were secured.

Dan White, the group’s managing director, noted that the result was struck last month while NZ was in tougher lockdown and there were severe restrictions in Australia.

“Many industries like travel, tourism, hospitality, retail and car sales reported trading falls of between 60 per cent to 100 per cent in April,” he said.

March had seen $4.52bn in sales over the Ray White network.

April declines were felt across the nation, apart from WA which bucked the trend.

Still all eyes were on listing numbers at present, he said, noting “listing numbers have been gradually declining, even as sales figures remain strong”.

April did see an internal blemish within the Ray White group when a rising star at their Maroubra office pleaded guilty and was convicted of supplying a prohibited drug. The 22-year-old was arrested after a search of his car revealed a sock stashed inside a secret compartment that contained a quantity of cocaine.

A Ray White A-frame “open for inspection” signage was allegedly found in his car. Last month the agent appeared before the Local Court at Sydney’s Downing Centre and was given a 13-month intensive corrections order and ordered to serve 200 hours of community service. It was only on being queried by his bosses after a media call to the agency that he reluctantly agreed it was him and resigned.