ASIC’s $32 million settlement with Multiplex for poor disclosure of its Wembley losses has been lauded in some circles as an important win for the regulator.

However, there are many observers who believe someone should have gone to jail for this exercise, or at the very least been charged and presented before the courts.

In some respects it is a similar situation to the notorious Yannon scandal at Coles Myer and some of the players are the same.

Back in 1996, then ASIC chairman Alan Cameron also failed to lay any charges, preferring a civil settlement in which $12 million was extracted from various players, including Solomon Lew and Coles Myer’s auditors Price Waterhouse.

Fast forward a decade and Alan Cameron had a role in this latest cop-out deal – this time as the newest Multiplex director who joined the board on December 4.

Cameron knows all about Multiplex because he was chairman of the Ronin Property Trust, the old AMP Property Trust, when it accepted a $1.2 billion scrip takeover offer from Multiplex in late 2004, just months before the first of several Wembley profit downgrades.

This extract from Ticky Fullerton’s 2005 Four Corners program on Multiplex sums up the problem:

TICKY FULLERTON: If there were pressures, late last year, investors were blissfully ignorant. But rather than take stock, Multiplex management launched into another new deal. A $1.2 billion deal. Multiplex’s target was Ronin, a portfolio of Australian office buildings which sat in a property trust. Unlike the construction business, property trusts are low risk with a steady income stream from rentals. Multiplex wanted to buy some security.

At the time, the Multiplex share price was $5.14. The shares are worth nothing like that now. It was a great deal for Multiplex.

Indeed, poor old Ronin shareholders accepted about 200 million Multiplex shares which are now trading at $4, when the property market has taken off over the past two years.

Rather than accept the Multiplex coin, Alan Cameron should have been a key a key crown witness in the ASIC case against the company because his Ronin shareholders were arguably the biggest losers from the whole Wembley debacle.

Sadly, the former corporate plod seems to have instead chosen to help them stay out of jail. What a sad state of affairs.

Peter Fray

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