Associate Judge Hannah Sargisson is reported as saying yesterday, that making prominent businesswoman May Wang bankrupt, while not an easy decision, was correct “in the interests of justice“. But many may be asking: ‘what exactly does this (quoted) phrase mean and how does it relate to the broader concepts of “truth”, “moral absolutes”, “ethical standards”, “public interest” and “community standards” – given that “justice” is generally perceived to be connected to one of more of these ideas?
To answer this question one must bear in mind that the associate judge said that Ms Wang had not been forthright to creditors or the court and the disclosure of her interests in the UBNZ group, the vehicle through which Hong-Kong listed Natural Dairy had planned to buy the Crafar farms “has been entirely inadequate“. [Emphasis added]
Given that creditors of the failed Dynasty Group she directed were (and still are) owed $22 million, at the time she sought to settle her debts in court; they and the court were entitled – in the name of justice – to be granted a full and honest disclosure of the true state of all her financial affairs. However, because the court concluded that her disclosures had been “entirely inadequate” and that she “had not been forthright“, it is apparent that the truthfulness of her disclosures were called sharply into question.
Yes, justice is inextricably tied to the moral absolute of truth and the application of ethical standards that reflect and are derived from this foundation. In order to understand the importance of promoting good community standards one must understand how these concepts are inextricably connected.
For creditors to secure a just and fair outcome, the truth concerning May Wang’s financial affairs had to be fully disclosed to the court. It was not, in the view of the associate judge. And the absence of full disclosure must have riled the judge and creditors alike, given that Ms Wang at the time was heading up an audacious $1.5 billion bid to purchase 16 Cradar farms (that it now it tatters).
The associate judge ruled yesterday that Ms Wang’s affairs must now be put in the hands of the Official Assignee who has the statutory power to investigate any and every asset held by Ms Wang.
Inland Revenue, one of the creditors, owed $1.3 million, said bankrupting Wang was “in the public interest” and would allow the Official Assignee to potentially “uncover assets”.
If assets are uncovered that were never disclosed to the court, it follows that they were hidden from the court. If it can be established that assets were not disclosed, deliberately, charges could be laid against Ms Wang. Already the media have highlighted various foreign-registered companies in which she has an association, which were not disclosed to the Court.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into the purchase of three Crafar farms by a NZ registered company Wang directed and which is an associate company to the Hong King registered Natural Dairy, was prompted because of its failure to get clearance for the purchases from the Overseas Investment Offce, as required under the Overseas Investment Act 2005.
The SFO boss, Adam Feeley, has has said that the SFO focused on investigating cases that made a difference – where there was a significant number of investors and the amount lost was significant. In the last year, there were an average 1600 investors affected by each investigation and $35 million involved per case.
He contends that the resources put into such investigations must be “cost-effective and “justice-effective” in terms of the outcomes. Here we have the concept of justice ‘raising its head’ in the context of the rooting out of fraud and corruption. Wrongful acts, unlawful activities, non-compliance, exploitation of financial loop-holes in the law etc. are all ”persons of interest’ to those seeking justice on behalf of creditors and for the purpose of upholding the “public good”.
The SFO tries to target cases, Feehey has said, of public concern to restore consumer confidence and deter would-be fraudsters. “We believe that if we target thoose cases, and obviously they achieve a successful outcome and if they receive a good coverage, then that’s the best deterrence.”
Highlighting the potential and real very harm to the “public good” that results from corruption, fraud, etc. is a POSITIVE step in promoting good community standards. The same can be said about all immoral behaviour that corrodes and undermines good community standards, the rule of law and moral absolutes.
Face of Crafar bid goes bankrupt by Nick Krause. Dominion Post , 9/12/10, p. A5.
SFO: Experts needed to complete Hubbard probe. Dominion Post. 9/12/10, p. C2.