ASIC has finally thrown the book at former Gribbles CEO, Wallace Cameron.

The corporate watchdog announced yesterday that the former tax barrister has been charged with dishonesty for using his position as a director of Gribbles to gain an advantage for himself, making misleading statements in Gribbles’ annual directors’ reports, giving misleading information to Gribbles co-directors, and failing to give information to Gribbles and the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) relating to changes in his substantial holding in Gribbles shares.

In addition, Cameron was also charged with making false or misleading statements to ASIC during an examination under oath and engaging in conduct to obstruct or hinder a person in their exercise of ASIC powers.

As noted by Bryan Frith, combined, the charges laid against the former St.Kilda Football Club director carry a total of 67 years in jail.

As this 2004 Fleur Leyden report suggests, Cameron has had a chequered business career, which includes the rare honour of being sued by a Swiss bank (and ultimately paying a $1 million settlement) and several run-ins with the ATO over Cameron’s failure to lodge personal tax returns and Gribbles’ $4 million tax bill.

The background to the Gribbles matter is complex (and has been extensively covered by this University of Wollongong website).

Wallace Cameron first bought into Gribbles in 1987 (with the help of Pokies King, Bruce Matheson), which at the time was a private company. After some internal ownership changes, Gribbles was listed on the ASX by way of reverse takeover in 2001.

Gribbles’ life as a listed company was not a pleasant one (full details of Gribbles activities are far beyond the scope of this article), with the company’s share price sliding after constantly disappointing the market with poor earnings results.

Shareholders were finally put out of their misery when Healthscope purchased the company for $285 million in December 2004.

All the time Gribbles was a listed company, Cameron did not disclose his alleged 43% holding in the company. He was not listed as a substantial shareholder in Gribbles Annual Reports until 2004, and did not declare his interest to the ASX or ASIC.

However, despite the form, everybody seemed to know that Cameron was the 43% holder in Gribbles, with the mainstream business media regularly referring to Cameron as the suspected owner of the shares.

It has been alleged that the reason Cameron went to such lengths to hide his 43% holding was to avoid tax (the former tax barrister has practically made a career out of dueling with the tax office).

In pursuing Cameron, ASIC traced the beneficial holding in EC Medical to Cameron’s children, through a chain of companies based in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, and Jersey – a veritable who’s who of tax havens. All this only came to light after ASIC threatened to vest and sell Cameron’s 43% stake.

In the end, given the significant alleged risks Cameron was willing to take to avoid disclosing his holding in Gribbles, he must really hate paying tax.

Disclosure: The author spent a very small amount of time researching the ability for ASIC to vest Wallace Cameron’s shares while working as a corporate lawyer.