Elliott accused of defrauding Elders: Tycoon faces pounds 30m charge after running out of injunctions in prosecution

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JOHN ELLIOTT, one of the most prominent Australian business figures of the 1980s, was charged yesterday with being part of a conspiracy to defraud Adollars 66m (pounds 30m) from Elders-IXL, the brewing and agricultural company he once headed.

The criminal charges against Mr Elliott relate to allegedly bogus foreign exchange transactions involving Elders during the late 1980s. His appearance at a Melbourne magistrates' court came after three months of legal drama in which he fought to have injunctions extended to prevent the charges being laid.

His final legal avenue was exhausted when an Australian High Court judge, Justice Mary Gaudron, ruled that there were no special circumstances that would warrant the further extension of injunctions originally imposed in September.

Within hours of her ruling, Mr Elliott was charged with two counts of theft and one of conspiracy. Two former Elders executives, Ken Jarrett and Peter Camm, were also charged.

Mr Elliott's counsel said he was innocent. Sitting impassively, Mr Elliott heard the Crown prosecutor describe him as the linchpin in a conspiracy involving other former Elders directors.

Outlining the case against Mr Elliott, the Crown prosecutor said there had been a conspiracy in 1988 to pay Adollars 66m in two separate amounts to Allan Hawkins, then head of the failed New Zealand company Equiticorp. Mr Hawkins is now in prison.

The payments were allegedly disguised as foreign exchange transactions with the complicity of two officers of the Bank of New Zealand. The money allegedly went direct to companies controlled by Hawkins. Mr Elliott, Mr Jarrett and Mr Camm were allegedly involved with others in a conspiracy to conceal the true nature of the payments.

The prosecutor said it was not alleged that Mr Elliott personally received any money from the transactions, but he was head of one of Australia's most important companies at the time. He described the case as one of the largest involving theft to come before an Australian court.

Mr Elliott was one of several high-flying entrepreneurs who built vast business empires during the Eighties, funded largely with debt. He merged two old Australian pastoral and food companies to form Elders-IXL, and vigorously expanded the group by taking over the Foster's brewing empire in Australia and Courage in Britain. His bid for Allied-Lyons in 1985 was blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

At the height of his prominence, Mr Elliott was president of the Liberal Party, the main partner in Australia's conservative opposition coalition. His empire later unravelled under debt, and last year Mr Elliott finally lost control of the last of it, the Foster's Brewing Group.

Yesterday's charges follow an investigation into the 1988 transactions by Australia's National Crimes Authority (NCA) and the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions. Last September, Mr Elliott successfully sought a court order preventing charges being laid against him. He later accused the NCA, the Victorian DPP and Australia's ruling Labor Party of a conspiracy against him.

After yesterday's court hearing, Mr Elliott and the other former Elders directors were released on bail and are due to re-appear in court in April.

(Photograph omitted)