6 Mar 2012

$200m Centro class action begins in Australia

2:57 pm on 6 March 2012

One of Australia's biggest class actions has begun in the Federal Court involving thousands of shareholders in the property investment company Centro.

Investors are seeking more than $A200 million in damages, accusing Centro of misleading and deceptive conduct by not revealing the true extent of its debts which led to a share price collapse in late 2007.

The shopping centre owner and funds manager nearly collapsed under $A5.7 billion in debt.

One of the many issues to be thrashed out in the case, set to take at least 10 weeks, is where the responsibility for liability lies.

Professor Ian Ramsay, a director of the Centre for Corporate Law at the University of Melbourne, says the judgement will be watched closely by the business community as there are important legal issues at stake.

"The key allegation here is that Centro didn't comply with its continuous disclosure obligations under the listing rules.

"We don't see a lot of litigation (or) court cases about continuous disclosure rules. But because these rules apply to all listed companies, they are important.

"We look for decisions of our courts to provide guidance to the marketplace."

Centro's auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is also being sued as part of the class action, and says it will vigorously defend itself in court.

The class action is being funded by a third party, a litigation funder.

If successful it will take 30% to 40% of whatever the court awards, leaving the balance for the victims of Centro's share collapse.