Anyone relying exlusively on newspaper reports could easily be left
with the impression that it’s Kerry and James Packer and PBL that’s on
trial in the NSW Supreme Court and not former One.Tellers, Jodee Rich
and Mark Silberman.

A string of witnesses have named PBL in such a way that media
reporting has concentrated on the Packer group and not the civil case
ASIC is bringing against Rich and Silberman seeking $92 million in
compensation. PBL and News Corp lost hundreds of millions of dollars in
the collapse of One.Tel in 2001 and clever questioning by David
Williams SC, for Rich, has managed to maintain the focus on the
PBL-Packer side of the financial collapse.

It was more of the same in court on Monday as Williams pressed the former PBL CEO,
Peter Yates, drawing from him the story of the bet between himself, James Packer
and Ashok Jacob (a director of PBL and executive of
the Packers’ private company, Consolidated Press) about how low the One.Tel shares would fall when news of a rights issue to
raise more cash was made in 2001.

Here’s
the story in the SMH, again focussing on Yates, the Packers and PBL. And here’s
one particularly illuminating exchange involving Mr
Yates.

Mr Yates denied allegations he convinced other One.Tel directors that the $132 million was not going to be
enough to get past One.Tel’s cash
hurdle.

Mr Yates told Justice Robert Austin he was concerned about
the way journalists would portray the propositions being put to him by the defence counsel.

“Your job is to answer
the questions as best you can,” Justice Austin
said.

“Mr Williams suggested that both Mr
Yates and Kerry Packer knew One.Tel was showing a loss
for PBL by May 17, 2001.

“Mr Packer was ropeable about the
matter, wasn’t he?”

“Mr Yates replied: “I don’t
recall.

“He was unhappy about
putting more cash into One.Tel when we had been told
it wouldn’t be required.”

“Mr Yates was repeatedly unable to recall details of events
leading to PBL’s decision not to underwrite the rights
issue.”

Ahhh, the good ole West Australian
defence that is used so often these days, in this
case, in cases involving other business people and even in the C7 case in the
Federal Court where Kerry Stokes has been heard to utter “I don’t recall” in its
full variety of versions under examination from counsel for News Ltd and now
PBL.

So what will Mr Williams next month when
confronted in the witness box next month by James Packer and then Lachlan
Murdoch.

James Packer is supposed to be in court on
November 9,10,14,15,16, 21 and 22 followed by Lachlan
Murdoch. But the case is running late, so Mr Williams
will have to kick his lips and anticipate for a little while
longer.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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