19 Dec 2019

Former associates reflect on Sir Ron Brierley after he was charged with possessing child abuse material

8:33 am on 19 December 2019

Sir Ron Brierley's former deputy is staggered the New Zealand business tycoon has been arrested and charged in Australia for possessing child abuse material, he says.

Sir Ron Brierley.

Sir Ron Brierley. Photo: Getty Images

Sir Ron, 82, was stopped at Sydney International Airport on Tuesday morning ahead of a flight to Fiji.

Border officials found child pornography on his laptop and electronic storage devices, leading police to lay six charges of possessing child abuse material.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, they had been acting on an anonymous tip and found more than 200,000 images and 512 videos.

Sir Ron became both feared and revered in business circles for his shrewd ability to spot companies with untapped value, which he would then take over and turn around for vast profits.

The "corporate raider" - as he's usually referred to - founded Brierley Investments, which was one of New Zealand's largest most successful and glamorous companies of the 1980s.

Former Brierley Investments board member Sir Selwyn Cushing, who also served as chair for a time, told RNZ Sir Ron made a lot of money for his shareholders - himself included.

"Ron Brierley showed the would-be investors how to buy a share and make sure there's value in your investment," he said.

"Corporate rationalisation was the name of the game in his life for a long time. Corporate rationalisation."

The NBR's 2019 Rich List estimates Sir Ron's net worth is about $220 million, putting him at number 82 on the list of the wealthiest New Zealanders.

Aside from his business interests, Sir Ron's other loves are cricket and stamp collecting. He is still thought to be one of the most prolific stamps dealers in the world.

His arrest came as a complete shock to Sir Selwyn.

"Never did I see anything in the [way of] sexual deviancy, nothing that I could take umbrage at him. You've staggered me with that particular revelation."

In her 1990 biography Brierley, the Man Behind the Corporate Legend, Yvonne van Dongen wrote that he frequently travelled to Asia - mostly to Thailand - where he enjoyed encounters with young women - often teenage prostitutes.

"Brierley seems completely comfortable with this aspect of his life and showed no signs of embarrassment when teased about his frequent trips to Thailand," the book says.

"'You know how I like to visit the Buddhist temples', he told me with a knowing smile."

In light of this, Ms van Dongen told RNZ that his arrest came as no surprise to her.

"It was flagged in the book and I asked him about it and he wasn't at all embarrassed, he just said something about, you know, how he likes visiting Buddhist temples. There was no sense of shame or 'don't write that'. Nothing," she said.

"I am not surprised given he had a predilection then for young girls in Asia."

She said Sir Ron had never complained about what was published.

Although the book was unauthorised, she said Sir Ron did fly her to Sydney in a private plane to interview him for the project.

"He was revered, I mean, people queued up to meet Brierley. Maybe it's the same as the adulation that Warren Buffett gets now," she said.

"He ... was said to have made a lot of people rich - I always wonder about those statements - but there were a lot of people who invested in Brierley Investments who had faith in him and he was riding high."

She found Sir Ron to be an understated if slightly eccentric man who liked things to be kept in order, she said.

"He was surrounded by these kind of strutting alpha males, but he was not like that. He's quite withdrawn and shy and a bit acerbic," she said.

"He's an unusual person - he's not the image of the corporate raider that you would imagine."

Sir Ron was knighted in 1988 for services to business management and the community.

If convicted he could be stripped of the honour.

Sir Ron is currently on bail at his mansion in the affluent Sydney suburb of Point Piper, to appear in court on 10 February.