Stephen Lewis Matthews is a lecturer in business studies and the host of a website covering the stockmarket. Now he’s in jail because of our over-zealous corporate regulator the ASIC.
Poor old Stephen Matthews, publisher of www.chimes.com.au, has been sent to the slammer for three months after being found in contempt of court. Stephen is being held up by the ASIC as an example of what will happen to people who breach the securities laws on websites.

If only the ASIC would go after some of the bigger fish with as much gusto as they have pursued poor old Stephen Matthews, we would have a much better culture of corporate accountability in Australia.

Presumably, Stephen will now be ineligible for the REAC board at the strife-torn company’s AGM on May 15. We’ll hopefully have someone there demanding a few answers from Nick Steffey and his cohorts who have helped destroy the company.

Anyway, let’s have a look firstly at what the ASIC said about the jailing of Stephen Lewis Matthews who is the 160th person they have put behind bars since 1990.

Chimes Internet Publisher Jailed
May 4, 2000

Stephen Lewis Matthews was today sentenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales to three months gaol for contempt of court. Mr Matthews is the publisher of an internet site called The Chimes, which is located at http://www.chimes.com.au. On 23 March 2000, the Supreme Court found Mr Matthews guilty of contempt of court after he continued to publish securities reports on the internet, in breach of interim orders obtained by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. On 19 February 1999, ASIC obtained an injunction in the Federal Court restraining Mr Matthews from providing investment advice or publishing securities reports either generally or on the internet until the court made a final determination of the matter. Mr Matthews pleaded guilty to contempt of court before Justice Sackville in the Federal Court and was given a suspended sentence of two months gaol on 16 June 1999. In September 1999, ASIC made an application in respect of further contempt following the publication of securities reports by Mr Matthews between July and September 1999. Justice Windeyer found that Mr Matthews had published reports about securities in breach of the orders of Justice O’Connor. Today the matter was back before Justice Windeyer to hear submissions on penalty from both parties in relation to the finding of contempt against Mr Matthews. After hearing argument from both sides, His Honour stated that it was inappropriate to give Mr Matthews a fine, rather it was necessary to impose a term of imprisonment to ensure integrity of the system of justice. His Honour then sentenced Mr Matthews to three months imprisonment, effective immediately.

For further information contact: Issued by Lucienne Layton ASIC Media Unit NSW Director DISC Tel: (02) 9911 2683 (Deposit Insurance Superannuation and Consumers) Tel: (02) 9911 2473 Mobile 0402 019 598 ASIC 00/203 A S I C Australian Securities & Investments Commission

That’s what the regulator reckons, now let’s take a look at a couple of emails we have received.

Crikey Readers Are Concerned

Dear Stephen,

I don’t know if you have heard of this, but I thought you should know about it.

Stephen Matthews, the owner of the Chimes forum site (www.chimes.com.au) has just been jailed for 3 months by ASIC for “publishing securities reports”.

I have seen all his posts, and none of them are any different from run of the mill posts you get on any investment forum

I think its important that all the independent sites stand united on this issue and condemn the ASIC action. This issue strikes at the heart of free speech and other liberties that we take for granted.

I would like you to consider putting up a statement of support for Stephen Matthews on your site as he goes through this very difficult time, and condemn the ASIC action. If we do not stand together and attempt to publicise and condemn the ASIC action, then who knows who will be the next victim?

I look forward to hearing from you

Chimes Watcher

Dear Crikey,

I know very little about this case but on the surface it does disturb me.

From what I can see the guy is not doing any harm. No one in their right mind would take any notice of what he says without checking it out first – and anyway why can’t he say things about shares and investments if he wants. If he gives a full disclosure and does not “ramp” stocks with untruths then why not let him have his say. Why should he have to have a securities piece of paper? The ASIC guidelines seem to me to have gone beyond the spirit of the act that they work under. The act says that they are to regulate the securities industry by licensing securities advisers. That is a good thing but why should it now imply that other people can’t give advice. The act would seem to me to be that it is a crime to give advice and pretend that you are securities adviser. If you are not then that should not stop you advising.

There are plenty of laws to cover fraudulent claims and misrepresentations. Let people have their say.

The case would seem to have pretty serious ramifications. If he does something in another country – in this case NZ – which is not illegal in that country and yet he gets jailed in Australia then that seems a bit much.

Why was he stopped doing what he was doing in the first place that caused the contempt of court action? The injunction as I can see is hardly justified.

I know he seems a bit stupid to have deliberately provoked the ASIC and then the judge but maybe they were wrong?

It is interesting that this event has hardly been reported. Be interested to see what you can find out about it.

Kevin Cox

PS I’m not a fan of Chimes and I do not bother to read any of the stuff on the website.

Matthews Jailing A Dangerous Precedent
By Stephen Mayne

Crikey met up with Stephen Matthews last month as he was keen to co-operate on a few things. We held back because of his various legal stoushes with the ASIC but from what we can see the courts and the regulator have been very heavy-handed.

Stephen did tend to persist with his recommendations and mooted share offering and judges often come down like a tonne of bricks if the sanctity (and sometimes pomposity) of the court’s rulings are not duly adhered to. But what we are talking about here is very much at the margin and it appears no-one acted on Stephen’s postings. Besides, his site was initially registered in New Zealand. The internet is meant to be all about freedom of speech. People in Australia do not have a culture of suing over material on the net but we now have the corporate regulator jailing people because of it.

If this was America there would be a tremendous discussion about the free speech implications of all this but in Australia no-one has taken it up with any gusto.

How can it possibly be that no-one goes to jail over Yannon yet someone who teaches business at a TAFE is locked up for a couple of postings on some little known website.

If some of the other 159 so-called white collar crooks that ASIC has jailed over the past 10 years got done for things as lame and trivial as this then we take back the praise we dished out to ASIC two weeks back.

Let’s hope none of us at Crikey ever finish up in the slammer. We’re all about putting other more deserving people there but with the likes of ASIC floating around who knows what could happen.

For now, let’s hope Stephen is okay and give his site a visit at www.chimes.com.au if you get a chance, just to lend some moral support.