The often-delayed NSW Supreme Court case into the multi-million-dollar collapse of a Griffith winery is set to be finalised on 6 March after this hearing date was set by a judge on Monday (5 February).
Sans Pareil Estate, owned by 29-year-old Hanwood farmer Aaron Salvestrin, went into liquidation in October 2022, allegedly owing the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) $32 million.
The liquidator, insolvency firm Chifley Advisory, launched Supreme Court proceedings in July 2023 to recover money from Mr Salvestrin, alleging he caused the winery to make several “unreasonable director-related transactions” after receiving GST refunds to which Sans Pareil Estate wasn’t entitled.
The court case resumed on Monday when ”directions” were scheduled – a short hearing in which Justice Ashley Black decided on the final hearing date for the matter.
At this directions hearing, the liquidator’s lawyer Paul Hunt told Justice Black that Mr Salvestrin had still not filed points of defence in response to Chifley Advisory’s allegations, which were submitted to the court back in July 2023.
Mr Hunt noted, however, that an email from Mr Salvestrin had recently been sent to his law firm regarding “compliance”, though he didn’t provide further details.
Mr Salvestrin did not attend Monday’s hearing, nor did any lawyer representing him. He had previously been represented by Sydney-based lawyer Ben Horne, who stopped acting for him in September 2023.
This court matter was originally scheduled for a final hearing on 17 October, 2023, but the liquidator’s lawyer requested a postponement.
On that occasion, the lawyer, Mr Martin, told the court that documents subpoenaed from credit card company American Express listing “some $4 million” worth of transactions allegedly made between December 2019 and November 2021 had not been provided.
There was a further delay when Mr Hunt told the court the liquidator was still awaiting documents from American Express at a December hearing.
“The matter was set down for hearing [last year] I think by a mistake because the liquidator hadn’t received information from subpoenas yet [from American Express] and we weren’t ready for a hearing, so the matter [was delayed] to deal with the finalisation of evidence,” Mr Hunt told the court on Monday.
Justice Black and Mr Hunt then agreed on the date of 6 March, 2024, for a final hearing.
“I anticipate the matter will take one day to resolve,” Mr Hunt said.
At an earlier Supreme Court hearing on this matter (17 October, 2023), Justice Kate Williams said the liquidator’s lawyers were responsible for the case being delayed at that time.
“The American Express material was not absent,” she said.
“It was produced and your solicitor did nothing to inspect it until 9 October. This delay and the delay in your solicitor discovering the problem that he now says there are documents that haven’t been produced is entirely due to the fact that nobody from the plaintiff [liquidator] inspected the documents promptly after 28 August.”
Court documents listed four transactions made by the winery to American Express between 2018 and 2022 for the amounts of $4,206,228, $260,000, $108,199 and $67,133.
Several other transactions are also listed in court documents, including $18,000 for a “personal universal home theatre” and $31,895 for luxury private jet service Navair.
Several luxury cars were bought in the name of the winery, including a rare McLaren P1 supercar signed by Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo, which was sold by the liquidator for $1.47 million.
In October 2023, the trademarks, logos and labels of Sans Pareil Estate were advertised for an “urgent” sale as part of the winery’s liquidation, with expressions of interest of $50,000-plus sought from prospective buyers. This intellectual property has reportedly now been sold.
Mr Salvestrin was just 24 years old when he launched Sans Pareil Estate, named after a French term meaning “without equal”. The company sold everything from bulk wine to black-label reds and received positive reviews for its flagship product – a 2018 Shiraz named Monumental.
Nine companies associated with the winery were registered between March 2018 and March 2022; all are now in liquidation.
The liquidator’s lawyer also pursued separate Supreme Court proceedings against Salvestrin Enterprises Pty Ltd, one of those nine companies.
This matter was finalised at a hearing on 9 November, 2023, when the court ruled in the liquidator’s favour, paving the way for a spacious four-bedroom house at 39 Brooks Street in Collina to be sold as part of the winery liquidation.
In a creditors’ report published in December 2023, Chifley Advisory said this house was being appraised. As of early February 2024, it was not advertised for sale.
All court cases launched against Mr Salvestrin have been in the civil jurisdiction, meaning they relate to property or money and are not criminal matters.
Mr Salvestrin has not been charged with any crimes over this matter.
Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.