Bryers a tall poppy? Venus fly trap is more like it...

The sheer amount of Kiwis' savings that was blown away in the finance companies sector collapse and the associated property bust will not easily be replaced. Many of the affected are too close to retirement to easily earn it back again, or are now dependent on family to keep them going in the case of the more elderly.

The New Zealand Herald
May 22, 20910

Bryers a tall poppy? Venus fly trap is more like it…
Fran O'Sullivan

MarkBryersSmiling.jpg

Mark Bryers. Photo / Doug Sherring

Blue Chip's Mark Bryers is not - never has been - a "tall poppy".

This is the epithet that Newstalk host Mike Hosking trotted out this week in defence of the behaviour of the Hotchins glam couple with the lifestyle of extreme excess that so affronts those who lost money in Hanover Finance.

The big lesson from this latest series of debacles in New Zealand's financial history is to take a very close look at the lifestyles of those to whom you are entrusting your own hard-won savings.

If it's all flash, ask who really is paying the cash for the entrepreneurs' toys: you or them?

To the investors who lost large in Blue Chip by following the Bryers' brand of commercial magic, he is more like a carnivorous plant: the kind that attracts and digests its prey.

A common Venus fly trap, perhaps? But more aptly a pitfall trap. You get the gist.

He is basically a commercial predator whose company targeted the elderly, persuaded them to mortgage their houses to the hilt, then continued to peddle its wares at a time when it was heading for the knackers' yard.

The heart-wrenching stories of those who were taken in by the Blue Chip machine would have filled a telephone directory, according to District Court Judge Chris Field.

But the Ministry of Economic Development did not seek a jail term for his failure to attend a creditors' meeting and though he pleaded guilty to a total of 31 charges arising from the collapse of the multimillion-dollar Blue Chip empire, investors' hopes that he would somehow be locked up were inevitably disappointed.

Bryers has been slapped with the proverbial wet bus ticket: 75 hours of community work and a fine of $37,000.

This taste for the high life (or low life, depending on your point of view) is something that far too many of the commercial players whose companies have led far too many Kiwis to the cleaners in recent years seem to share.

The Hotchins will continue to swear black and blue that they have done the best for the investors in Hanover Finance.

But out-of-pocket investors are right to wonder if the company might have survived if its co-founders had been more intent on running the shop instead of simultaneously running high-maintenance lifestyles - skiving off to Vomo Island (in Mark Hotchin's case) with a bunch of mates to celebrate his 50th birthday, holding White Tie and Diamond balls and instructing contractors to build a $30 million mansion in what has once again been dubbed Parasite Drive.

Eric Watson's swanky 50th birthday bash in Istanbul was not a good look. Watson never fronted the investors with an apology. (Hotchin - as least did that).

In Rod Petricevic's case, he helped himself to $600,000 of Bridgecorp's funds to pay his personal tax bill.

The Serious Fraud Office now claims he made fraudulent payments totalling more than $1 million to a sham business run by a personal acquaintance, Auckland woman Janita Wright, who says she did not know of the practice.

This business - ABb - has quickly been dubbed "A big blonde".

Then there is the SFO's further claim that Petricevic's flash launch was also funded by Bridgecorp.

The SFO's investigations went much further than these two instances. Its new-broom director, Adam Feeley will hope his office has a watertight case on this score.'

In the case of the unfortunate Stephen Versalko, who stole a fortune from ASB Bank clients and spent millions on his own pet pair of prostitutes, the picture is more sordid than flash.

Versalko was hardly a pretty sight. But surely his own bosses must have wondered who was really funding his high life of wine, women and song on a bank executive's salary.

The sheer amount of Kiwis' savings that was blown away in the finance companies sector collapse and the associated property bust will not easily be replaced.

Many of the affected are too close to retirement to easily earn it back again, or are now dependent on family to keep them going in the case of the more elderly.

They do have to bear considerable blame for their predicament. But the lessons must be learnt by succeeding generations.

In Thursday's Budget the Government unveiled a series of tax changes that ought to act as an incentive to New Zealanders to increase their savings. For example, the new 28c effective tax rate will boost KiwiSaver returns.

This ought to be a magnet for fledgling savers and investors - though they must exercise their responsibility to scrutinise their KiwiSaver provider, as the funds are not Government-guaranteed.

By dropping the tax rate for a range of savings vehicles, the Government has sent a valuable signal.

But the onus is still on prospective investors to check out the small print - and those lifestyles - first.

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By Fran O'Sullivan | Email Fran

Comments

1. Ryansway (Wellington)
On an international scale we have very few genuine "tall poppies", and they would be horrified to be referred as such.

And those few outstanding individuals are people of honor, so it is blatantly disrespectful to associate parasites in our society with a term reserved for the humblest of genuinely accomplished individuals.

One cannot use such a term to mask the evil deeds of those who commit fraud, plagiarism, or theft. And it is likely that anyone who throws that term around so irrationally, is themselves seeking comfort that misdeeds have such a mask to hide behind.

"Tall Poppy", is a term used all too often in this country lately, and it is never in a positive light. Perhaps its time to reclassify genuinely accomplished individuals as simply "honored citizens", and let "tall poppy" be known as the term used by persons of questionable character who seek to deceive.

2. John (New Zealand)
They do have to bear considerable blame for their predicament.

I don't agree - many people invested money with these thieves on the advice of investment advisors. In other words many investors sought professional advice and received incompetent advice to invest in these dodgy companies.

3. Ricardo (Papakura)
When the courts and the government get serious about these fraudsters there amy actually be sentences dished out that are a deterrent to others.

4. David Le Breton (New South Wales)
Bernie Maddoff received 150 years jail for running a ponzi scheme.

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