Opes Prime director to stand trial
Saturday March 12, 2011
FORMER Opes Prime director Julian Smith will stand trial on dishonesty charges over his role in the collapse of the stockbroker, despite an attempt by his lawyer to have the case thrown out.Smith's counsel, Mark Regan, told the Melbourne Magistrates Court there was no evidence Smith "definitively" knew the full scale of the financial problems facing Opes Prime and dishonestly kept that information from the broker's financier, ANZ, in the days before the collapse.Instead, the knowledge of Smith and fellow director Anthony Blumberg "may have been deficient", Mr Regan told the court.This represented a backflip from Mr Regan's position on Thursday, when he indicated there was enough evidence of dishonesty to put the question before a jury.But magistrate Luisa Bazzani said she had decided "without difficulty" that Smith should face trial on four charges of breaching his duties as a director of two companies in the Opes Prime group.She acknowledged the presence of victims of the collapse in the court's public gallery."The court expresses its sympathy for people who have suffered loss as a result of the collapse of this group," she said.Smith reiterated his earlier plea of not guilty to all four charges and was bailed to face a Supreme Court directions hearing along with fellow directors Laurie Emini and Blumberg on March 21.Over four days this week, the court heard evidence from witnesses including Opes Prime executives, its lawyers and the senior ANZ banker who was responsible for pulling the plug on the group, Ben Steinberg.The court heard that ANZ gave Opes Prime a loan on March 20, 2008, to enable it to return $95 million worth of shares belonging to mining identity Norman Seckold.It was alleged that in return the bank was given additional security over Opes Prime's assets.Australian Securities and Investments Commission prosecutor Mark Gibson told the court there was evidence Smith was "fully aware of the insolvency of Opes Prime Securities Limited" on March 19. This meant it was dishonest of him to sign a certificate stating that the company was solvent as part of the loan agreementwith ANZ the following day, Mr Gibson said.He said the movement of two accounts, each of which represented a "hole" in Opes Prime's accounts of about $100 million, out of Opes Prime on March 19 was an indication the group was insolvent.On March 27, Smith, Emini and Blumberg put the group into administration after Mr Steinberg called in the loan.