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16 Feb 2019 12:09
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  •   Home > News > Business

    NT Beverages was on brink of collapse when it received $10m of taxpayers funds, report finds

    The Northern Territory's Infrastructure Development Fund signed off on a $10 million taxpayer-funded investment to Darwin water bottler NT Beverages despite the company being deeply in debt and on the brink of financial collapse, a new financial report re

    11 February 2019

    The Northern Territory's Infrastructure Development Fund signed off on a $10 million taxpayer-funded investment to Darwin water bottler NT Beverages despite the company being deeply in debt and on the brink of financial collapse, a new financial report reveals.

    The report to creditors by administrators Ferrier Hodgson also shows that the NT Government had threatened debt recovery action against NT Beverages for unpaid stamp duty less than two weeks before the now decommissioned NT Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) bailed out the company with taxpayer cash.

    NT Beverages went into voluntary administration in December, but the administrators' report has raised fresh questions over how the troubled company was awarded a total of $10.5 million of public funds.

    The IDF was established by the previous CLP government, with $200 million from the sale of the Territory's public insurer, TIO.

    It was signed off on by current Labor Treasurer Nicole Manison in late 2016, and had faced criticism for being structured to act as a private entity despite being completely funded with taxpayer cash.

    Sydney-based Infrastructure Capital Group (ICG) managed the fund until late last year when it was shut down, after making only the one investment in NT Beverages over two years.

    The NT IDF board consisted of former ICG executive director Les Fallick, Paspaley Pearls CEO James Paspaley, former Macquarie Bank boss Bill Moss, former Future Fund managing director Mark Burgess and head NT Government public servant Jodie Ryan.

    The creditors report into NT Beverages' operations found the company had spent $9.2 million of the investment in just four months, although it remains unclear what the money was used for.

    For reasons not explained, the IDF later issued the company a $100,000 loan of taxpayer money so it could pay wages last September — three months before it shut its doors, according to the report.

    The document also raised concerns about when exactly NT Beverages became insolvent and suggested "potentially unreasonable director-related transactions involving previous directors" had occurred.

    "Revenue has been historically poor with projections not being achieved on a consistent basis," the report stated.

    "Given the ongoing net losses, the group was reliant upon ongoing debt and equity funding to continue as a going concern.

    "Wages and consulting fees [including directors' remuneration] were the largest expense.

    "… Cumulative tax losses amount to $22.7 million."

    NT Government 'disappointed' with investment outcome

    But in February 2018, the NT IDF, following a recommendation from ICG, approved $10 million of public money for NT Beverages.

    ICG has refused to explain how the company's major financial problems were not discovered during its supposed due diligence.

    Repeated phone calls and emails to the company have gone unanswered and a visit to ICG's Darwin office found its prime commercial office space empty.

    Taxpayers forked out $1 million a year, for at least one and a half years, to ICG to manage the IDF and recommend investments.

    The NT Government's lone member on the IDF board, head public servant Jodie Ryan, declined to answer the ABC's questions, including why she approved the $10 million of public funds less than two weeks after the NT Government threatened debt recovery action for $221,000 in unpaid stamp duty in February 2018.

    "The investment manager, Infrastructure Capital Group, was the entity responsible for developing a pipeline of potential investments, and making investment recommendations to the NT IDF board," she said in a statement

    "The Northern Territory Government is disappointed that the NT IDF's investment in NT Beverages has not had a positive outcome, and the performance of this investment was a factor in the decision to wind up the NT IDF."

    Ms Ryan did not answer questions over her personal role in overseeing the funding as a board member or why taxpayers later loaned the company an additional $100,000 to pay wages.

    The administrators' report also found NT Beverages owed more than $130,000 to the Australian Taxation Office, including penalties for not paying their employees' superannuation contributions.

    Records show CEO and founder Hugh Jones resigned from the company in May 2018.

    The administrators' stated they are continuing to investigate "some potential uncommercial transactions involving Hugh Jones".

    Mr Jones has been uncontactable since leaving the company.

    The report also suggested that should a liquidator be appointed, a further investigation into when NT Beverages became insolvent is warranted.

    The Gunner Government has previously ruled out referring the matter for investigation.


    © 2019 ABC, NZCity

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