Wherever he turns, Steve Vizard faces legal threats, accusations, investigations, criticism and outrage. Every day there’s a new twist or turn – so who can keep up with it all? To assess his overall position, Crikey has compiled a form guide of charges, allegations and possible actions.

CHARGE or
ALLEGATION
COMMENT
STATUS
Breach of director’s duties Vizard cut a deal with ASIC by pleading guilty to the civil charge of breach of director’s duty, which will see him face a ten-year ban on being a company director and fines of $390,000, after he admitted to trading shares in three Telstra satellite companies – Sausage Software, Computershare and Keycorp – while a director of Telstra.
Guilty as charged
Insider trading At this stage Vizard has not been charged with insider trading, even though his publicly documented private share buying while a Telstra director constitutes probably the most brazen case of insider trading in Australian corporate history. The statement Vizard signed in the civil action against him by ASIC cannot be used in a criminal case of insider trading as it would not have existed if authorities had launched criminal proceedings. But the possibility remains that he could be charged over other share trading while he was a Telstra director, or he could be charged with the criminal offence of insider trading over the transactions to which he has already pleaded guilty if new evidence or information appears. Crikey understands that ASIC has not indemnified Vizard against further prosecution.
Possible further investigation
Perjury The Victorian Police fraud squad is believed to be investigating whether Vizard perjured himself when he denied authorising illegal trades while under oath during a 2003 Magistrate’s Court committal hearing into theft charges against his former bookkeeper, Roy Hilliard. Vizard refused the opportunity to repeat his denials under oath at Hilliard’s trial this week, citing self-incrimination. Perjury is a criminal offence.
Under
investigation
Tax evasion The ATO is likely to be looking closely at Vizard ‘s numerous business interests, and aggressive use of charities and foundations. Disgraced bookkeeper Roy Hilliard claimed through his lawyer in court this week that Vizard had instructed him to move money offshore and said he followed those instructions by stashing away $3 million at Vizard’s request as part of a tax avoidance scheme – Vizard had earlier alleged Hilliard stole the cash, but refused to testify at Hilliard’s trial. Hilliard is also said to have occupied an office rent-free at Vizard House in East Melbourne – a hostel for out-of-towners visiting the sick – even though it only retained its tax exemption if Vizard kept his business and charitable interests separate. Vizard’s luxury holiday house in Port Douglas was also purchased in the name of the Vizard Foundation – a charitable organisation that pays no tax.
Possible
investigation
Westpac’s $2 million Westpac is reviewing court evidence relating to the $2 million the bank paid to Vizard after he had claimed his former bookkeeper had drawn unauthorised cheques. Last week the bookkeeper, Roy Hilliard, said he had received just $438,000 of the missing $3 million caught up in the false accounting case. Hilliard’s lawyer, Peter Hayes, QC, questioned where the remaining $2.6 million had gone. “The money was never looked for under any rocks of Mr Vizard here or offshore,” Hayes said. In view of the court allegations and publicity around them the question is: will Westpac, which is believed to hold a mortgage on Vizard’s Toorak home, attempt to recover the $2 million from Vizard?
Under
investigation
Other covert share trading while on the Telstra board In addition to trading in Sausage Software, Keycorp and Computershare, Vizard also spent $650,000 buying shares in technology companies ERG, Exodus and Extant, magazine publisher PMP Communications and Channel 7 through his secret share-buying company Creative Technology Investments, set up by accountant Greg Lay.
Possible
investigation
The art collection The Vizard Foundation was heavily involved in the art world through the donation of paintings to various galleries. But two years ago Vizard was questioned over allegations that he claimed tax deductions on six paintings that were never purchased. Vizard was also noted for his meagre donations to the National Gallery of Victoria while he was president of the gallery’s trustees. It’s possible that all the attention on Vizard’s activities could activate an ATO investigation into the tax status of Vizard’s extensive (and expensive) art collection.
Possible
investigation
“Hidden” business activities Vizard is facing questions over his connections to The Communicate Trust – an umbrella organisation grouping at least 11 companies in advertising, TV production and public relations, run by his friend Shaun Levin. It includes Melbourne advertising agency, See, which has won accounts for the National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Games and the National Gallery of Victoria since Vizard began work as a “consultant.” This could be even more relevant when Vizard is prohibited from managing companies as part of his penalty for breaching his Telstra director’s duties by trading shares.
Possible
investigation
Reputation Even if he isn’t charged with any other offence, Steve Vizard has utterly lost his reputation as a businessman, director, philanthropist or as someone who can be credible in a public role. After the non-stop tirade of allegations and disgust following the disclosure of his impropriety as a Telstra director – and in other matters – it’s impossible to imagine him ever again holding a public position of trust or responsibility. In the court of public opinion he has already been tried, sentenced and found guilty on all counts.
Guilty in the court of
public
opinion

Peter Fray

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