The Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s internal investigation acknowledged “the bank could be facing rather large and embarrassing claims of fraud”.
See ABC 7.30 Report where Dispute Assists, Mr Bruce Ford says “Staff were actually instructed to make up the numbers on loan applications and use fictitious amount on loan applications and omit liabilities on the balance sheets of the application.”
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Abattoir collapse leaves town devastated, ABC 7.30 Report, by Nick Grimm
Australia’s corporate watchdog is expected to examine the mysterious business collapse of an abattoir which left behind debts of more than $20 million. A 7.30 Report investigation reveals the secret and disreputable past of the couple who owned and operated the meatworks.
But locals were shocked still further when they discovered that millions of dollars worth of unsold stock, workers’ entitlements and superannuation money had gone missing. Millions more are owed to the abattoir’s local suppliers and businesses.
Even so, it might have been just another case of an Australian business going bust leaving behind unanswered questions, unpaid bills and a devastated local community.
But tonight a ‘7:30 Report’ investigation can reveal the confidential and disreputable past, or the secret and disreputable past, of the couple who owned and operated the meatworks. It was a past that if known would have rung loud alarm bells for anyone either working for, or, doing business with the pair.
The revelations also raise serious questions about the role played by one of Australia’s biggest banks.
Nick Grimm reports.
PETER FOWLIE, FORMER ABATTOIR WORKER: They went under in a big way, left everybody in the lurch. Left them with nothin’. People are going home and just sittin’ there like a stunned mullet.
FEMALE REPORTER, WIN TV NEWS (FEBRUARY): The devastating news that Young’s biggest employer has gone into receivership left its 300 workers shaking their heads.
PETER FOWLIE: Everyone expressin’ the same feelin’ as everyone else mate, you know. You know they were basically mongrels for doing what they did, mate.
NICK GRIMM, REPORTER: Young, in south west New South Wales, is still feeling the impact after the town’s abattoir abruptly shut down in February throwing more than 300 locals out of work.
MARIA SANDERSON, FORMER ABATTOIR WORKER: It was a real kick in the guts and, yeah, I was walkin’ around for a week not knowing what I was gonna do. I was just like a zombie too.
NICK GRIMM: But what’s deepened the town shock has been a string of unanswered questions that have emerged in the wake of the collapse; including the disappearance of crucial records.
What do you make of it all?
STUART FREUDENSTEIN, MAYOR, YOUNG SHIRE COUNCIL: Well, it’s on the nose, that’s for sure. But I, as I said, I hope the authorities get a result.
NICK GRIMM: How did you feel on the day the receivers moved in and shut the abattoir?
GRANT EDMONDS, FORMER ABATTOIR OWNER: Well I still couldn’t believe it. I was totally devastated, really.
NICK GRIMM: Now the man who for years was Young’s biggest employer is reviled for leaving his workers and the rest of Young in the lurch.
Grant Edmonds owned the abattoir with his girlfriend Kim Noble, who was also the company’s financial controller.
GRANT EDMONDS: The situation looked a bit grim but we’d always got out of it in the past. All of a sudden there’s a change of attitude, a change of people at the banks, all of a sudden it was like a person non gratis.
NICK GRIMM: But while Grant Edmonds blames his bank for pulling the plug on his business prematurely this list of company creditors shows Burrangong Meat Processors owes money all over town and in a lot of other places too.
MARK OSBOURNE, CREDITOR: Oh, well they hurt a lot of people you know. A lot of people owed money. Not only me, you know, yeah, a hell of a lot of people.
NICK GRIMM: When receivers and a liquidator moved in the search began for assets that could be recovered from the collapsed business to help repay its debts. They discovered that the cupboard was virtually bare.
TIM HEESH, LIQUIDATOR: These are areas that we need to review, in due course, as to determine whether those liabilities were in fact excessive, unrealistic, unreasonable, at the time, or leading up to the time, of the liquidation.
NICK GRIMM: For a start, up to $2 million of workers’ entitlements was missing, a debt that has since been passed on to taxpayers because entitlements are guaranteed by the Commonwealth in the event of business collapse.
Employees’ superannuation is also missing. In many cases super hadn’t been paid in more than a year.
ROSE MOLIN, FORMER ABATTOIR WORKER: For all that money that we’ve put into, we’ve worked for all these years, it just gets taken away from us.
NICK GRIMM: Worse still for some employees their voluntary superannuation contributions have also disappeared.
How do you feel about the fact that your employees lost their entitlements and their superannuation?
GRANT EDMONDS: We, we, we … Not all of them did, and there’s only a few of them, not all had it, didn’t have, we. We were trying to keep it up to date as we could with the payments and doing our cash flows to keep everything intact and not we were gradually getting them done, getting them paid.
They weren’t all not paid. Some were behind, but we were getting them up to date, and with the sale going through there’s ample surplus there to clear everybody up to date and have the whole thing done.
NICK GRIMM: I’ve spoken to people though who say their superannuation hadn’t been paid in more than a year.
GRANT EDMONDS: No, that’s not true. I don’t believe that’s true. We never, ever, grant, never not, it was always intended to, you know, be paid and we were working towards that. We had it done, virtually.
NICK GRIMM: But that’s not all that’s missing from the now quiet abattoir premises.
So as a receiver and a liquidator picked through the entrails of this business, one of the perplexing questions they’ve been trying to find an answer to is: what happened to millions of dollars worth of meat that were expecting to find hanging up on meat hooks in chiller rooms like this one?
We’re told that there should have been enough unsold stock here to have paid out all of the employees’ unpaid superannuation entitlements.
MARIA SANDERSON: I had a lot of stock in the actual freezer to be taken out of the blast freezers, everything the next day, and now I know that it just all went and it makes you cranky because, you know, all that hard work’s just gone down the tube.
GRANT EDMONDS: Well, I don’t believe there’s any missing meat at all. I mean, as far as I’m aware, the stock was there and, certainly, I don’t believe there was any substantial stock missing.
NICK GRIMM: The answers might have been found in the abattoir’s business records but a couple of days before receivers moved in there was a mysterious burglary at the abattoir.
Security cameras turned off and the alarm deactivated. The thief was able to enter and remove computer hard drives containing the business computer records.
TIM HEESH: Clearly it’s not what a liquidator wants to see, is that, the removal of essential records just prior to our appointment.
NICK GRIMM: Why would somebody steal those hard drives?
GRANT EDMONDS: I’ve got no idea, only to do me harm as I can see it, and I’ve got no idea who would do it.
NICK GRIMM: Certainly there is resentment back in Young that Grant Edmonds and Kim Noble live in a luxurious, two story, penthouse in this apartment building overlooking Sydney Harbour. It’s currently listed for sale with an asking price for $3.5 million but Grant Edmonds says he’ll end up with nothing once his mortgage is paid out.
GRANT EDMONDS: I risk bankruptcy. I finish up with nothing after 25 years. So, I won’t be better off, I won’t be living in any flash house, don’t worry about that.
NICK GRIMM: The ‘7:30 Report’ understands the apartment is a private asset and there’s no suggestion its purchase was funded through the abattoir business.
TIM HEESH: I’m aware of that particular asset. I’m not aware of what might be being done with that particular asset at this point in time and, on the face of it, no, I have no immediate ability to take or receive any of the proceeds from any of the assets of the directors.
NICK GRIMM: Grant Edmonds, would you describe yourself as an honest person?
GRANT EDMONDS: Absolutely.
BRUCE FORD, BANKING ANALYST: My first reaction of hearing of the activities in Young bought a disappointed smile to my face because it didn’t surprise me. I thought ‘here we go again.’
NICK GRIMM: In their business lives Grant Edmonds and Kim Noble modelled themselves as paragons of financial rectitude and boasted of the experience they’d gained working for the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney.
So it’s obviously been a pretty detailed investigation?
BRUCE FORD: It has. You’ve got 180 pages there of various activities.
NICK GRIMM: Enter Bruce Ford who’s build a career around helping people he believes have been ripped off by their banks.
10 years ago he tabled this internal Commonwealth Bank investigation at a Senate inquiry into the banking industry.
BRUCE FORD: The purpose of tabling that document was to identify to the parliament that the Commonwealth Bank had been involved in dishonesty and, you know, to identify and highlight the impact on customers affected by those events.
NICK GRIMM: Can I ask you what your response is to the findings of that report?
GRANT EDMONDS: I don’t know what, what the report is about, what is it about?
NICK GRIMM: Do you recognise that report?
GRANT EDMONDS: No, I don’t, no.
GE (ACTOR): Thank you.
NICK GRIMM: Back in the mid ’80s Grant Edmonds was a 41 year old Commonwealth Bank manager and Kim Noble was a 23 year old bank clerk.
There are few reminders of the small suburban branch at North Auburn in Sydney’s west where the pair once worked together. Shut down by the bank years ago it became a rug shop, now even that’s gone.
But 25 years ago the North Auburn branch of the Commonwealth Bank was a hive of activity.
It was also the focus of a major internal investigation which described it as ‘a branch running out of control’ with financial practices described as ‘disgraceful.’
LEE RHIANNON, NSW GREENS MLC: Seemed as though it was just operating without any checks and balances.
NICK GRIMM: Do you see any conflict of interest as you have money invested?
GE (ACTOR): Business economics there was no…
NICK GRIMM: According to the CBA’s report into the matter the investigation uncovered a series of dodgy accounts an loans many involving companies in which Grant Edmonds held an undeclared personal interest.
VOICEOVER: An intricate web of transactions with investments by Mr Edmonds in a number of companies, or firms, banking at North Auburn on which unsecured, unreported excesses have been allowed.
The conflict of interest arising is obvious.
GE (ACTOR): Oh, I didn’t think there was any case that I did, didn’t think there was any conflict of interest.
The 7:30 Report has recreated Grant Edmonds interrogation by bank investigators based on the transcript included in their report. While he rejected acting the corruptly, the investigation found he’d been ‘deceptive and dishonest.’. It was, the investigator said,
VOICEOVER: A total abuse of his position and complete abdication of his management responsibilities.
NICK GRIMM: The Commonwealth Bank concluded that you had been falsifying loan applications?
GRANT EDMONDS: That is not true.
NICK GRIMM: Approving risky loans, overvaluing assets.
GRANT EDMONDS: That is not true. It was never proven.
NICK GRIMM: You were complicit in the use of fake company seals.
GRANT EDMONDS: That is a lie, that is an absolute lie and I will guarantee I never used a fake in my life and that is an absolute lie. That is, I know why that came from, it was certainly not me and that is a lie, an absolute lie.
NICK GRIMM: You were forging signatures.
GRANT EDMONDS: That is a lie too.
NICK GRIMM: And that you operated fake bank accounts.
GRANT EDMONDS: That is not true.
BRUCE FORD: Staff were actually instructed to make up the numbers on loan applications and use fictitious amounts on loan applications and omit liabilities on the balance sheets of the application.
NICK GRIMM: Investigators also reported that Kim Noble helped Grant Edmonds to open and use a joint bank account using fake names. They concluded that:
VOICEOVER: …a case presently exists for prosecution of Miss noble for fraudulent withdrawal of funds
NICK GRIMM: When Grant Edmonds was confronted with evidence he admitted using the account.
INVESTIGATOR 1: Did you sign the withdrawal for $9,000 on the account?
GRANT EDMONDS: I did. I am totally involved.
INVESTIGATOR 2: It is a fictitious account?
GRANT EDMONDS: Yes.
NICK GRIMM: According to the investigation you admitted that you opened a bank account using fictitious names?
GRANT EDMONDS: I don’t believe I did.
NICK GRIMM: There is a transcript of an interview with you included in that investigation where you admit that you are operating a bank account opened with fictitious names?
GRANT EDMONDS: I don’t believe…if I knew I certainly have no recollection of it now. But that was a long, long time ago. How long ago are we talking about now? 25 years,30 years ago.
NICK GRIMM: The mid ’80s, yes,
GRANT EDMONDS: Yeah, 30, oh, you know, I don’t believe, if everyone had bank accounts in fictitious names in that day. Now whether I had one or not I don’t remember, but, I mean, if I said I did, I probably did, but I mean as far as I’m aware there was nothing in it.
NICK GRIMM: 25 years ago investigators admitted their inquiries had only skimmed the surface but they were confident they had learned enough to justify further action.
This handwritten note of one of the investigators assesses the prospect of the fraud squad taking a close interest in Edmonds if the matter was referred to the police. They also acknowledged the bank could be facing rather large and embarrassing claims of fraud.
BRUCE FORD: I would question whether the Commonwealth Bank referred the activities at the North Auburn branch to the fraud squad and if not why not.
NICK GRIMM: NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has seen a copy of the investigation, she believes the bank had a responsibility to report the goings on at North Auburn to police. But that instead the bank allowed Grant Edmonds to quietly submit this letter of resignation and leave the bank without scandal.
LEE RHIANNON: From what it appears this report by the Commonwealth Bank was buried.
NICK GRIMM: Did the bank take any action against you or Kim Noble?
GRANT EDMONDS: No.
NICK GRIMM: What happened?
GRANT EDMONDS: Nothing. It was a big beat up. It was a big beat up, I’m telling you.
I was running a very successful branch and I got promoted out of that branch and, how many, was I charged? No. Did I lose me pension? No. Did I lose me entitlements? No.
NICK GRIMM: The 7:30 Report requested an interview with a representative of the Commonwealth Bank instead we received this statement.
FEMALE VOICE OVER: The Commonwealth Bank takes very seriously allegations of inappropriate or fraudulent activity.
In the matter of the allegations raised by the ‘7.30 Report’, these occurred 25 years ago. Commonwealth Bank cannot comment on specific staff or ex-staff for privacy and confidentiality reasons.
NICK GRIMM: According to the report Grant Edmonds and Kim Noble didn’t leave the bank empty handed.
The CBA investigation also revealed that money that had been channelled through dodgy bank accounts had helped with the purchase of a new business, an abattoir at Young.
LEE RHIANNON: The people of Young have every right to feel quite angry because they’ve been left high and dry because the Commonwealth Bank didn’t take action. So it’s understandable that Mr Edmonds and Ms Noble, having worked in the Commonwealth Bank, could go to a country town and boast that they’ve got good credentials.
NICK GRIMM: The question now for Young is: does it want Grant Edmonds and Kim Noble back again?
When the 7:30 Report spoke to Grant Edmonds he confirmed that he’s trying to buy the abattoir back from a receiver who’s reluctant to accept his offer.
What’s your understanding? Does the receiver have to sell the abattoir to you if you’re the highest bidder?
GRANT EDMONDS: I believe so. I believe that’s the law.
NICK GRIMM: If he’s successful, Grant Edmonds would regain control of the business, free of his collapsed company’s multimillion dollar debts to the bank, other creditors and to former staff.
So, would the abattoir’s former owner be welcomed back in town?
STUART FREUDENSTEIN: I prefer to answer that by saying that I’m hopeful that a new owner will take it on, be more community minded.
PETER FOWLIE: The whole affair was kind of seedy. I mean, just all of the cloak and dagger business behind the whole affair just, you know, it’s just poor form. You’ve got so many people livelihoods at stake.
Just gotta keep goin’. It’s happened whether we like it or not so, in a way, we’ve just gotta cop it on the chin and just, yeah, keep goin’.
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