First, there was a flood in the courtroom. Then, a key lawyer didn’t show up.
The third attempt at an intriguing Supreme Court hearing into the multi-million-dollar collapse of a Griffith winery – scheduled for Monday (9 October) – has observers wondering if the case will ever progress.
Region‘s exclusive investigation has revealed Sans Pareil Estate winery went into liquidation in October 2022 and allegedly owes the Australian Tax Office (ATO) more than $32 million.
A report by the liquidator, insolvency firm Chifley Advisory, alleged the company created false financial statements to receive GST refunds from the ATO to which it wasn’t entitled.
More than 30 (mostly small) businesses in Griffith and elsewhere in Australia are also listed in this report as being owed money by the winery.
The business owner, 29-year-old Aaron Salvestrin, has not been subject to any criminal charges regarding the winery. However, Chifley Advisory has pursued Supreme Court proceedings to recover money from him.
The first attempt at a hearing on 18 September was washed out due to a random flooding event at Sydney’s Law Courts Building.
On 25 September, the re-scheduled hearing ended abruptly when Mr Salvestin’s lawyer, Ben Horne, announced he wanted to cease representing the 29-year-old.
“My client has failed to comply with Your Honour’s orders, and additionally, there are financial reasons which mean that we can no longer continue to act towards the defendant,” Mr Horne told the court.
Chifley Advisory’s lawyer, Paul Hunt of Hunts Law, didn’t show up for the hearing at all. The matter was re-scheduled again for Monday, 9 October.
Justice Ashley Black said proceedings would be dismissed on Monday if the liquidator’s legal representative failed to attend again.
Region contacted Mr Hunt to find out if he planned to attend Monday’s hearing, but he did not respond.
The specifics of the case are shrouded in mystery as the Supreme Court has restricted media access to court documents.
On 19 July 2023, Hunts Law filed an application on behalf of the liquidator to recover from Mr Salvestrin an amount equal to alleged “impugned voidable transactions” made by the winery after it received GST refunds it wasn’t entitled to from the ATO.
The court documents list transactions totalling just over $6.8 million, including a bill for $31,895.70 for luxury private jet service Navair and several overseas transactions marked “personal”.
The Supreme Court judge has denied Region’s request to access any court documents filed after 19 July so it is unclear whether the details behind the case have changed since then. Lawyers for both sides have declined to comment on the case.
Over the past 10 months, the liquidator has attempted to sell assets owned by the winery so that money can be recovered to pay creditors.
Chifley Advisory’s January 2023 report to creditors listed 21 vehicles that were deemed assets of the winery, including a McLaren P1 supercar signed by Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo that was sold for $1.47 million and a Mercedes-Benz Actros truck worth $385,000.
The report also listed an additional nine vehicles that were allegedly disposed of by the winery between March 2020 and August 2022, including two Volkswagen Tiguans worth $55,000 each and three Mitsubishi Outlanders.
The liquidator stated at the time it could not identify where the proceeds from the sale of these vehicles went.
Region understands that some of the company’s wine remains unsold and sits in a warehouse in the Griffith industrial area.
Mr Salvestrin launched Sans Pareil Estate on his parents’ citrus farm in Hanwood in 2018. The name of the company is a French term meaning “without equal”. The winery 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.
Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.