It’s the stuff of F. Scott Fitzgerald: the super-rich are indeed different. Dick Pratt had more money than he could count, he had half a duopoly that could become legally cozy with a little care, he’d already escaped a brush with an odious deal (the 1990 Regal and Occidental Insurance scandal), enjoyed fatherhood with both a supportive wife and a pretty mistress, he even has the Melbourne equivalent of a peerage – presidency of an Aussie Rules club – but he still went ahead and at least sanctioned a grubby cartel deal to rip off just about everyone he knew by inflating cardboard box prices.

It’s no surprise that Pratt came out spinning in the weekend Oz – “it wasn’t me, it was the mysterious CEO” – or that the apology he’s offering his customers is qualified.

It is curious that he’s doing it while his legal army is still fencing over the degree of reputational damage in the wording of Pratt’s settlement with the ACCC. Maybe they’re trying to pre-empt some of the pain.

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“I’ve had to wrestle with the choice of going to court to explain myself and try to clear my name or seeking a negotiated settlement which will necessarily involve admissions of breaking the law,” Pratt told the Oz. “On balance, the appropriate and pragmatic thing to do is settle.”

You might form the opinion then that Pratt wants to imply: “I’m really totally innocent, but I’m just pleading guilty because it’s cheaper.”

And that would appear to be rubbish. I can’t believe Pratt would settle unless he had to as money really is no object when it comes to protecting his reputation, such as it is. The evidence must be overwhelming – which is the way the AFR tells it today as it forecasts a $40 million fine.

Of passing bemusement is The Age quoting a Pratt spokesman as saying it would be inappropriate to pre-empt a resolution with the ACCC. It’s exactly what the well-spun Oz interview attempts.

So why would he do it? Why did Steve Vizard bother with insider trading when he was a Telstra director? The rich are different.

Perhaps it’s worth revisiting the Regal and Occidental scam. My immediate coverage of Pratt’s Battery Group selling those two insurance companies to a shonk became the subject of legal action by Pratt, so I’ll stay out of it, merely reporting something Adam Shand wrote in the Bulletin recently:

The best (conman) Bluestone ever saw was Phillip Kingston Carver, who managed to buy two insurance companies from Dick Pratt in 1990 without laying down a cent. He had stripped out $1 million from Occidental and Regal Insurance before the former owners realised they had been had.

In a sad postscript, Carver took the booty in cash and went around paying off his many creditors from a suitcase before the cops caught up with him…

In the case of Occidental and Regal, Pratt’s USP was the fact that the insurance companies were heavily in debt and were insured against this kind of scam. History does not relate just when Pratt discovered he was being scammed but logic suggests that even if he did jerry early on, he would not have wanted to believe it.

Pratt contributed some tens of millions of dollars towards the confidential settlement of a large civil action that followed – but he had still managed to offload Regal and Occidental when no one else wanted to buy them. And, in a footnote to it all, it looks like he finished up with the benefit of Battery’s considerable tax losses.

The rich are indeed different.

Will the members of Carlton Football Club mind? I guess not – they have form with colourful businessmen as presidents. Oh, Pratt was involved in John Elliott’s BHP games back in the day as well. Perhaps it’s just keeping it in the club.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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