1 Mar 2012

Businessman pleads guilty to major fraud

8:06 pm on 1 March 2012

A Christchurch businessman has pleaded guilty to a fraud involving $103 million, after one of the biggest investigations undertaken by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Gavin Bennett admitted running a Ponzi-style scheme to fund international travel and a taste for expensive clothing and jewellery.

Over a period of nearly six years, Bennett used his technology hardware business to receive loans totalling $65 million from the now-failed South Canterbury Finance and falsified lease agreements to make it appear his company was trading normally.

He also falsified entries in Datasouth Finance financial statements by an estimated $38 million in order to retain the ongoing finance facility.

Instead, the IT expert was using the money to fund a luxurious lifestyle which included two upmarket apartments in Sydney and spending of $A429,000 on food and beverages.

Some $A900,000 was spent in regular payments to what the SFO describes as various female companions.

The SFO says the resulting financial loss to South Canterbury Finance was at least $23 million.

A judge at Christchurch District Court on Thursday remanded him in custody for sentencing in May.

The Serious Fraud Office says it is doubtful any of $7.8 million defrauded by Bennett for personal use will be recovered.

The SFO's Nick Paterson says the case has had a major impact on Christchurch with 30 of Bennett's employees losing their jobs as a result of his actions.