You’ve got to hand it to Wallace Cameron – he sure knows how to make our Crown prosecutors look like Keystone Cops.
Last Friday, Cameron pleaded guilty to an array of charges with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and ASIC. Almost two years after being charged, the Director of Public Prosecutions agreed to a meager fine and five year suspension from acting as a director. (ASIC noted in its media release that “the DPP prosecuted this matter”, as occurred with the infamous, Steve Vizard “breach of directors” duties’ case).
The charges related to Cameron’s ownership stake in pathology company Gribbles. Cameron, with the help of billionaire Pokies King, Bruce Matheson, originally acquired Gribbles in 1987. Cameron became CEO and the business slowly expanded. Matheson later sold his stake and in 2001, Gribbles listed on the ASX by way of reverse takeover. Gribbles didn’t last long as a listed company, constantly delivering poor earnings results and was acquired by Healthscope for $285 million in December 2004.
Until 2004, Cameron never disclosed that he was the owner of an approximate 43 percent stake in the company, claiming it was held by a mysterious Belgian company called EC Medical Investments (although Cameron was widely suspected as being the owner of the shares). Only after Cameron was forced from his role as CEO and the company issued tracing notices and ASIC was threatening to vest and sell the shares was it revealed that the beneficial owners of EC Medical Investments was Cameron’s three adult children via Brussels, the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Jersey.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
According to ASIC, Cameron last Friday pleaded guilty to:
- dishonestly failing to inform Gribbles’ bankers of his interest in the Gribbles shares held in the name of ECMI when asked, with an intention to gain an advantage for himself by keeping secret the true nature of his interest;
- signing Gribbles’ annual Directors’ Reports for the years ending 30 June 2001, 30 June 2002, and 30 June 2003 that omitted to disclose his relevant interest in the Gribbles shares held in the name of ECMI;
- failing to give Gribbles and the ASX notices of changes in his substantial holding in the Gribbles shares that occurred in November 2001, February 2002, and December 2003; and
- obstructing or hindering ASIC during the course of an examination under oath by claiming an inability to recall certain facts when questioned.
So, what was Cameron’s penalty for the myriad of offences which he pleaded guilty? A miserly $16,000 fine. The sanction is even more absurd when considered against the quantum of the deception. Cameron concealed a shareholding which was at one stage, worth more than $250 million. (Amusingly, Cameron also was ordered to pay legal costs of $4,000. Given that a run-of-the-mill QC goes for around $7,000 per day, the Commonwealth DPP must have got the work experience kid to run the matter. Given the result, it wouldn’t be a surprise).
As Bryan Frith noted in The Australian when Cameron was charged in 2006, he faced penalties of:
- non-compliance with a substantial shareholding notice – six month jail and/or $2.750 fine;
- breach of directors’ duties – five years jail and $22,000 fine;
- misleading the Gribbles Board – two years jail and $11,000 fine;
- signing a director’s report which omitted his substantial holding – 2 years jail and $11,000 in fines (for each of three separate failures);
- failing to provide substantial shareholding notice – six months jail and $2,750 fine (on six occasions).
That is only for the corporate offences — let alone the charges of hindering an ASIC investigation by giving false or misleading answers – pretty much perjury — another gaolable offence.
Crikey contacted the Commonwealth DPP for an explanation as to how Cameron, who was initially charged with 35 offences, many of which should have seen him behind bars, was able to plead guilty to only seven offences with no jail time. Unfortunately, the DPP weren’t able to reply by the time Crikey went to press.
Wallace Cameron has once again proved he is truly above the law. And just when the Vizard case made everyone think that Australia’s Director of Public Prosecutions couldn’t be any more pathetic, it manages to surprise us all.