12 Oct 2018

Reports offer hope for Forestlands shareholders

6:50 pm on 12 October 2018

The first liquidators reports for the Forestlands group of companies show hundreds of shareholders will see some or all of their investments.

A pine forest.

All of the companies' forests were collectively sold for $23.5 million. Photo: 123RF

All 16 Forestlands companies were liquidated by a high court, after an order by the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), which was still investigating the group alongside the Serious Fraud Office.

The companies were set up between 1999 and 2011 to buy forests in Southland, the Hawke's Bay and the Wairarapa.

Each company raised money from thousands of "mum and dad" investors, selling single shares with no voting rights for $1000 each.

When all of the forests were collectively sold for $23.5 million, most of them never got their money back. They complained to the FMA, which forced the rest of the sale proceeds to be frozen in a trust account.

The KordaMentha liquidator's reports said $16.7m of the sale proceeds remained, and all companies appeared to be solvent when liquidated.

They said an interim payment would be distributed to shareholders as soon as possible. However, they had not determined how much that would be.

Financial statements in the reports showed the sole director of Forestlands, Rowan Kearns, and parties related to him, owed $1.75m.

Co-liquidator Neale Jackson said he considered Mr Kearns could owe more and he had sought more information from him.

Liquidators were investigating other transactions paid to Mr Kearns, including director fees he received for two years following the sale, and a $207,000 payment he received to cover the cost of FMA enquiries last year.

In a statement to liquidators, Mr Kearns said he felt "attacked, threatened and bullied" since the investigation began, and he had no choice but to sell all of the forests because it was financially "hamstrung".

"The business was no longer viable because of compliance costs resulting from the changes in H&S [health and safety] regulations and financial services regulations," Mr Kearns said in the statement.

He said he did not tell shareholders because he was concerned they would sell their stakes, which would decrease the company's value and reduce the sale price.

"The decision to sell the assets while there was still equity in those forests for shareholders, was a good decision, made for the right reason, at the right time, and executed for the right price. I would make it again."

Mr Kearns said some money taken from the sale proceeds was used to repay bank loans.

He said media coverage of the Forestlands case was "one-sided and ill-informed".

"They would have you believe the director had taken proceeds from the sale and disappeared abroad. Absolute rubbish."

RNZ has requested Mr Kearns to make contact.

The liquidators would not hold a creditors meeting.

The FMA said in an email statement today, that it would not seek legal costs of $32,000 from Forestlands.