The Australian Jewish community is excellent in the way they hound rednecks and this article about WA Liberal senator Ross Lightfoot is well worth a read.
After his national service he lived in Port Lincoln for a while working variously as a plasterer and jackeroo and then joining the South Australian mounted police from 1961-63.
In 1968 he travelled to Western Australia to make his fortune in the mining industry, later establishing a series of companies, and heading up Southern Goldfields Mining Co, Eureka Minerals and A-CAP, a mining and exploration company of which he was both a director and Chairman.
Unusual then that the Senator now boasts on his Federal Senate curriculum vitae membership of the New York Academy of Sciences. Curious until we contacted the Academy in New York and discovered that while the membership sounds exclusive, in reality it is open to anyone for US$115.
The Senator also lists his membership as a Life Fellow of the International Biographical Association (Cambridge). The Biographical Association is a little more exclusive. When we telephoned them in England they told us we could also become Life Fellows – for £795. “You can also be awarded International Man of the Year,” the lady at the other end of the telephone suggested helpfully, “but we’ve only got 200 of them left.”
The Review has learned that Senator Ross Lightfoot appears to have been a director of two companies, which are now in the hands of receivers and liquidators; that those companies have a trail of creditors who lost more than $2 million; and that the Federal Police have investigated their affairs.
In 1987 a mining and exploration company called A-CAP Development Limited registered its head office at 325 Pier St, Perth. According to the Australian Securities Commission, the directors of the company are now Lloyd Peter Shoobert, Noel Edward Partridge and Philip Ross Lightfoot, while back in 1990 George Cash, now President of the Legislative Council in the West Australian Parliament was also a director of a subsidiary company of A-CAP called Coolkalg Resources Ltd. Cash’s once close relationship with Lightfoot appears to have soured.
In July of 1987 Lightfoot travelled to China, purportedly on parliamentary business, drawing handsomely on his taxpayer funded parliamentary travel allowance to pay for expenses.
However, according to Federal Independent MP Paul Filing, while the West Australian taxpayer was paying for the member’s’ ‘study trip’ abroad Lightfoot was in fact using the trip to negotiate multimillion dollar rights for an A-CAP development to recover gold from mining waste in China.
As a result of this trip, the Australian Ambassador to China, Ross Garnaut officially complained to DFAT that Lightfoot had arrived in China as an A-CAP director when the embassy in Beijing had organised an official welcome for him in the belief that Lightfoot was on a parliamentary study tour.
Garnaut wrote that “certainly we feel embarrassed by having been unwilling agents in what amounts to misrepresentations to the People’s Institute”. Lightfoot subsequently refunded the $6000 of tax payers money when the scandal blew up on his return to Australia.
But a $6000 travel allowance rort was to be just the beginning of difficulties surrounding A-CAP. In October 1990 a liquidator, Barry Taylor, of Ferrier Hodgson Chartered Accountants was appointed by the ACT Supreme Court to wind up the company and its subsidiary Coolkalg Resources Limited. It appears that A-CAP had amassed huge losses and outstanding creditors. According to documents obtained by the Review, the company that Ross Lightfoot had been chairman of had left a massive $2,145,774.00 of outstanding debts to creditors.
Included in the original list of unsecured creditors, were: The Australian Stock Exchange $11,591.73; Tax Office $13,044.50; Ansett Airlines $1,280.00; Australian Directory Services $109.00; Australian Mine Management $18,851.70; Bennett & Co $30,399.04; Blueribbon Holdings $3,265.00; Brian Mullumby $3,322.76; B.P. Australia $44,539.88; D.L.A. Marketing $470.00; Classic Laboratories $1,250.40; Coopers & Lybrand-Sydney a/c $30.00; Coopers & Lybrand-Canberra a/c $307.75; Coopers & Lybrand-Perth a/c $99,759.88; C.I.G. $1,531.98; C.I.P. Research & Development $156.00; City of Perth $528.62; Duesburys $102.20; Freehill Hollingdale & Page $103,636.00; Greenhill Electrical Pty Ltd $2,995.00; Gemma Surveys Pty Ltd $532.00; Gemmell Mining Engineers $18,878.96; Genanalysis Laboratory Services P/L $30.00; Goldfields Metallurgical Services $4,932.00; Mining Supplies (Kalg.) Pty Ltd $1,236.22; Minproc Engineers Pty Ltd $13,809.57; Moregold Carbon Services $5,142.00; National Share & Transfer Agency Pty Ltd $4,172.64; Price Waterhouse $8,500.00; Retair Ltd $15,381.50; Shire of Yalgoo $195.75; Shire of Perenjori $266.22; Shire of Sandstone $879.72; State Taxation-Land Tax $375.46; Statewide Tenement Advice Services $2,316.20; Water Authority $1,025.27; and Woodpacker Building Supplies $12,000.00.
The unsecured creditors, except for the Tax Office, were to receive a final settlement of only 8 cents in the dollar. The unsecured creditors also included the Bank of Western Australia, Bank West, for almost $1.4 million. It too received 8 cents in the dollar, leaving the bank with a massive loss and write-off to A-CAP.
While Bank West was not able to reveal details of the final settlement to the Review a spokesman for the company did confirm that Bank West had come to an agreement with Senator Lightfoot over other outstanding accounts, and had suffered losses in the A-CAP matter.
Seven years later and A-CAP is still in liquidation. In Australian Securities Commission documents obtained by the Review the liquidators for A-CAP informed the ASC late last year that all funds and assets available in the company had been fully expended and no assets remain.
Yet despite this, the company has left creditors more than $2 million out of pocket. Further, liquidators for the company stated in a letter dated November 29 1996 to the Australian Securities Commission that: “I understand, however, that the Federal Police in Perth may be carrying out an investigation into the former chairman and chief executive, Mr P. Ross Lightfoot.”
Richard Kenyon, of Ferrier Hodgson Chartered Accountants and Liquidators, confirmed to the Review that last year “the Federal Police contacted us and asked if they could have access to some of the documents we lodged at the ASC relating to A-CAP and Ross Lightfoot.” Liz Harrison, a spokesperson for the West Australian Federal Police told the Review that the Federal Police “could not confirm or deny whether the AFP were investigating Senator Lightfoot.”
However, the Review has learned that last year the Federal Police investigated A-CAP and Ross Lightfoot but that the investigation is no longer current, and no charges have been laid.
The same letter filed with the Australian Securities Commission in November 1996 also notes that liquidators advised the ASC on 20 August 1991 that officers of the company had committed offences under Section 556 (5) of the Companies Act which relates to fraudulent conduct with intent to defraud creditors of the company and other persons and carries a penalty of $10,000 or imprisonment for 2 years or both.
Senator Lightfoot appears to have been reluctant to face public scrutiny over his A-CAP directorship. In his financial interest returns for members of the WA Parliament he failed to list his directorship or association with A-CAP or Coolkalg in 1993, 94, 95 or 1996.
The West Australian Members of Parliament (Financial Interests) Act 1992 S.11 is very clear on this issue, stipulating that “A member shall disclose in a primary return and in an annual return the name and address of each corporation of which he was a member or in which he otherwise had an interest or held any position (whether remunerated or not) on the day on which he is sworn in or at any time during the return period.” Last week the newly installed Senator Lightfoot filed his Statement of Registerable Interests with the Clerk’s Office in the Senate in Canberra.
Again, it appears he has omitted all reference to A-CAP from the Senators’ interests register. One creditor who is still seeking outstanding debts from the Senator is Martin Bennett, a Perth solicitor who once acted for A-CAP. Mr Bennett told the Review that Lightfoot still has an outstanding personal debt of $38,000 to him for legal fees which he had personally guaranteed. According to Bennett, A-CAP’s liquidator has admitted the debt and solicitors have now commenced action to recover the money from Senator Lightfoot.
“We have commenced a recovery process of costs from a debtor who has sufficient funds to meet that debt,” says Mr Bennett. But when questioned about his financial dealings last week by the Review the Senator became vague. “I don’t have any outstanding debts in my name. I’m reasonably well off and I enjoy life. I simply don’t have any outstanding debts… I don’t have any control, equity or anything else in A-CAP.”
When asked about his directorship of A-CAP the Senator denied all association with the company “I haven’t been a director of A-CAP for 7-8 years. I don’t know who the current directors are… I ceased to take an active role or have any equity in the company. I sold my interests back then.” It was then pointed out to the Senator that in fact the company had gone into liquidation. “I think, that uh, I think that, that’s, that’s, uh correct. Just how it went into liquidation I’m not quite sure. Certainly not while I was a director… That was after the period that I was a director… I don’t have any knowledge of A-CAP at all. You’re the first one that has asked me for some years about A-CAP.”
But the Review has learned that not only was Ross Lightfoot a director of A-CAP, but that according to the Australian Securities Commission he remains listed as a director. And the West Australian Supreme Court appointed liquidators for A-CAP, Ferrier Hodgson, have confirmed to the Review that not only was Ross Lightfoot considered a director at the time of the company entering into liquidation in 1990, but that over the subsequent seven years the liquidators have had dealings with him in relation to the winding up of the company.
A company extract and certificate provided to the Review by the Australian Securities Commission also confirms that Philip Ross Lightfoot is still both a director and Company Secretary of A-CAP, the latter a position that he was appointed to on June 27, 1990 – several months after he claims to have resigned and the Bank lodged a court application to have the company wound-up.
The Company Accountant until January 1990, Gary Aslan, also recalls Ross Lightfoot as an active director of the company. “Certainly Ross Lightfoot was the Chairman and he had a hands-on sort of role… He came into the office daily and dealt with matters.
At the time that I was there, working in the office in Perth, he came in on a daily basis and dealt with correspondence and meetings and things like that,” Aslan told the Review. “At the time Ross was quite a large landholder in Western Australia; you know, he had sheep stations and things like that. At the time he had the biggest area of sheep stations in Western Australia, east of Sandstone. Even on the farms there were two mining holes.
Western Mining had one and Forsyth both had open cut mines on his properties… He was certainly a substantial pastoralist… I would think his properties were worth several million dollars.”
Dr Noel Partridge is a friend of Ross Lightfoot. He was asked to join the board of directors of A-CAP by Lightfoot in 1987. “I was a non-executive director; I didn’t know about the mining industry,” Partridge told the Review. “I was a personal friend of Ross Lightfoot and he asked me to be a non executive director, I was not hands on, all substantive decisions about the operation of the company were made by Mr Lightfoot. Ross Lightfoot always was and is Chairman of the company [A-CAP], then and when it went into liquidation. He was absolutely and totally involved – he was the company.”
John Gibbs is 78 years old. He was a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald. He was also one of the original journalists when the Financial Review started up and worked for Frank Packer on the Bulletin. In 1987 he sold his interests in A-CAP to Ross Lightfoot and Lightfoot’s company Eureka Minerals. “They gained the controlling interest in the company and had control from that point onwards. Immediately after, I resigned from the company and control went over to Eureka Minerals, which was controlled by Ross Lightfoot,” recalls Gibbs.
But Gibbs made the mistake of leaving his superannuation fund money in A-CAP. “I had the fund in A-CAP development, and myself and my wife still held shares in A-CAP as part of our superannuation. We lost a fairly substantial amount of money with them, all that superannuation money.”
There were many shareholders who had put their faith in Lightfoot, but who were to lose their investments in A-CAP. The company report for November 1988 (the last report filed with the Perth Stock Exchange – the company was delisted in 1990 for failure to pay the annual listing fee) lists P.R. Lightfoot as Chairman of the Board of Directors and carries a special message from Chairman Ross Lightfoot.
“The entrepreneurial and management ability of the present board should combine to form an extremely strong management base for future developments.” Other board members then included George Cash and Dr Noel Partridge.
The final listing for A-CAP held by the Australian Stock Exchange notes that on December 2 1989 A-CAP informed the exchange that Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia (now BankWest) had demanded the repayment of debts totalling $1,344,086.30 and that on 5 February 1990 the bank lodged an application in the Supreme Court seeking that A-CAP be wound up. The listing also notes that P. Ross Lightfoot was at that time Chairman of the Board of Directors.
While we were preparing this story Senator Lightfoot contacted the Review to advise us that he could still not remember the details of the affair “I don’t recall the exact details of it, my memory revolves around generics – apart from my family whose names I can remember precisely but whose birthdays I have trouble with sometimes.”
But he did suddenly recall that the Bank had taken control of the company in 1990 after he had been forced to transfer his shares to it and the liquidation of A-CAP had occurred several weeks later. The Senator argued that he therefore was not responsible for what had transpired with A-CAP and was no longer a director and that he had met all obligations to the bank.
“I transferred the assets I had in A- CAP to the bank… They made a unilateral decision to liquidate the company. Look, it may have been an ultimatum, that I can’t recall… we reached an understanding [with BankWest] and they took control of A-CAP… Everything with the Bank was satisfied. I guaranteed A-CAP’s debt’s with the bank.”
When it was pointed out that there remained significant outstanding company debts to creditors the Senator recalled: “I’m starting to think that maybe I didn’t guarantee all of A-CAP’s debts… I had other things on my mind at the time including a divorce from a rather aggressive former wife, and that was my main preoccupation at the time, to try to salvage my soul which at one stage looked as though it was going up for auction.”
He did, however, confirm that he was the last remaining Chairman and a Director before liquidation. On May 29 1997 Senator Lightfoot became a member of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee. The Committee is responsible for inquiring into and advising the Government on financial expenditure and management of the public service, sale of government assets, and the management of government funds.