Colourful Sydney lawyer and self-professed gun share trader, Chris Murphy, has had better months. The man who Kerry Packer once called a “market genius” was, apparently, a market dud, somehow managing to lose $100 million of other Opes Prime clients’ money on stocks like Challenger and Australian Pharmaceutical Industries.

By all accounts, Murphy owes Opes Prime creditors (who now include a swathe of innocent Opes clients) upwards of $100 million. It has been widely reported that Murphy was able to lose so much because he was being protected from margin calls by Opes boss, Laurie Emini, who just happened to be a co-investor of Murphy.

Murphy’s claims since the collapse have ranged from the absurd to the ridiculous. For Murphy, an experienced share-trader (he allegedly was given a share trading terminal by Opes) to claim that he wasn’t aware he had exceeded his margin is completely preposterous. Either he is a complete fool or he’s not being fully frank. Neither scenario places the man known as “Syringe” on trading site, HotCopper, in a particularly positive light. Even the most amateur of share traders will have a vague idea of where their equity position lies. Given that Murphy was trading with loan-to-valuation ratios approaching 100%, it isn’t difficult to realise that if the share price drops even by a small percentage, the equity position will be swamped by the large debt stake, precipitating a margin call.

The question which hasn’t been asked though is what will happen to one of Sydney’s most renowned criminal lawyers? It would appear likely that Opes administrators will take legal action against Murphy to recover the $100 million or so that he managed to lose. Murphy claims he has assets of $40,000, so unless his creditors agree to accept one twenty-fifth of a cent-in-the-dollar, Murphy may be forced to declare bankruptcy.

If Murphy declares bankruptcy, he may be stripped of his legal practising certificate and be barred from acting as a lawyer. The good news for Murphy is, according to the NSW Law Society, bankruptcy in itself isn’t a trigger for the immediate loss of a practising certificate. Rather, the legal regulator will look at the factors which lie behind the bankruptcy, for example, whether the bankruptcy was a personal matter (as it appears to be in Murphy’s case) or whether it related to their legal practice. While the majority of bankrupt solicitors and barristers are able to continue to practise in some form, a serious issue will arise with regards to the ability of the bankrupt to handle trust monies.

Admittedly, the looming spectre of bankruptcy and the possibility of losing his practising certificate may not be Murphy’s biggest concern at the moment, with The Age noting today that:

Melbourne Finance broker Tom Karas, who has links with underworld figure, Mick Gatto, told BusinessDay on the day of the Opes Prime collapse “Chris Murphy is the black hole. Chris Murphy and Sarah Brown – that where all the money’s gone.”

Legal career aside, at the moment, avoiding a cameo appearance in Underbelly 2 may be Chris Murphy’s biggest problem.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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