With reports circulating that Steve Vizard may be facing criminal
charges for perjury, it is interesting to note the different treatment
dished out to Vizard’s accountant Greg Lay, and Zarah Garde-Wilson,
lawyer to some of Melbourne’s underworld figures.

The Age reported yesterday that poor Ms Garde-Wilson has
withdrawn her appeal into a conviction for contempt of court.
Garde-Wilson decided against continuing her appeal after the President
of the Supreme Court of Appeal noted that she may receive a harsher
sentence if she proceeded (at first instance, Garde-Wilson was
convicted but not sentenced to prison).

If someone could ever have been excused for not testifying before a
court, it is Garde-Wilson. As Garde-Wilson’s defence barrister noted,
his client “knew what had happened to Mr Caine. He had been executed.
If she did not keep her mouth shut, Faure had said (or she believed he
had said) he would shut it for her.”

Despite the alleged death threats, Justice Chris Maxwell stated that
Garde-Wilson’s original sentence “does nothing to discourage the unduly
fearful from refusing to give evidence or to encourage them to ignore
their fears and give evidence”. On one hand, it is difficult to argue
with Justice Maxwell’s statements, as to do otherwise would be to
severely hamper the justice system. However, no one would envy the
predicament faced by Garde-Wilson.

But back to Vizard. In agreeing to a civil penalty, Vizard conceded (in
a statement of agreed facts tendered to the Federal Court) that he
benefited from insider trading activities, conducted on his behalf by
accountant Greg Lay. The statement of agreed facts was in relation to a
civil proceeding against Vizard – he was not charged criminally because
ASIC was not able to mount a strong enough case. The reason for this
was explained by the man prosecuting Vizard, Commonwealth DPP Damian
Bugg, who noted that “evidence from [Mr Lay] was crucial for a criminal
prosecution, as it would connect Mr Vizard to CTI and the trades and
the timing of the trades.”

Bugg was effectively saying that the only thing which saved Vizard from
being criminally prosecuted for insider trading was the refusal of Greg
Lay to cooperate with authorities and sign a witness statement (which
he had previously agreed to do).

The Garde-Wilson and Lay cases serve to indicate how differently the
justice system in Australia treats white collar crime. It is a system which
(rightly or wrongly) convicted Garde-Wilson for refusing to give
evidence against someone allegedly threatening her life, but at the
same time allowed Greg Lay to refuse to testify against Vizard (without
any excuse whatsoever) yet escape with no penalty at all.