Australia Former trade minister escapes health company collapse
Former trade minister escapes health company collapse
A Melbourne health company that planned to list on the Australian stock exchange and expand into China with the help of former Liberal trade minister Andrew Robb has collapsed owing more than $11 million to creditors. © Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Former Trade Minister Andrew Robb is now chairman of The Robb Group, on the board of cattle enterprise Kidman, Chair of Asialink and non-executive chairman of IPO-hopeful Global Brands Australia, according to a pitch in front of potential investors.
A Melbourne health company that planned to list on the Australian stock exchange and expand into China with the help of former Liberal trade minister Andrew Robb has collapsed owing more than $11 million to creditors.
A preliminary investigation into the collapse of Global Brands Australia, which was placed into administration on February 16, has identified "potential movement of assets and fraudulent business activity statements lodged prior to the appointment", according to a report by the administrator Chan and Naylor.
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The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is the largest secured creditor to the company, with a debt of more than $3 million, while 80 unsecured creditors are owed almost $8 million by GBA, which owns the weight-loss supplement program Celebrity Slim.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have been told by several sources that senior figures at GBA continued to spruik the business to potential investors just months before it collapsed, while stock was moved from its Braeside warehouse immediately before an administrator was appointed. A Mercedes leased by the business appears to have vanished, according to a company source not authorised to speak publicly.
Administrator Liam Bellamy from Chan and Naylor confirmed in a statement to creditors that there were significant discrepancies between the company's records and business activity statements lodged with the Tax Office.
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He confirmed the findings of his investigation could be referred to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and possibly Victoria Police.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has also appointed corporate recovery firm Grant Thornton as receiver - with further inquiries expected to be made into events leading up to the collapse.
"There are a number of options available to us that we can look at to recover fraudulent and void transactions. At this stage my investigations have not progressed up to the point where I can provide an estimate of what the value of those claims would be," Mr Bellamy said in a statement to ASIC on March 11.
At a meeting on March 25, creditors voted to place the company into liquidation.
In June last year The Age and the Herald revealed GBA had borrowed $1 million, which was used to underwrite the purchase of Celebrity Slim.
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Mr Robb, who had served as director and non-executive chairman of GBA since April 2019, resigned from the company just nine days after the involvement of Mr Charter - the biochemist at the centre of the Essendon and Cronulla football doping scandals - was made public.
It is not known if GBA repaid the loan to Mr Charter, but his close friend and underworld enforcer Toby Mitchell visited the company's Braeside warehouse in late 2020 to discuss a $700,000 debt with management.
Documents lodged with ASIC reveal another company linked to Mr Charter, Ageless Herbals Pty Ltd, is listed as a creditor of GBA and claims to be owed $31,000.
Mr Robb, who served as a minister in the Abbott and Turnbull governments, came on board to boost the start-up's credentials and leverage his extensive local and international political connections, particularly in China.
He retired from politics in 2016 to become a business and political consultant, most recently advising the Victorian government on its contentious decision to join China's Belt and Road Initiative.
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Mr Robb was the recipient of an $880,000-a-year consulting contract with a company closely linked to the Chinese government, which did not require him to undertake any work in return for the fee. The arrangement has since ended.
Mr Robb told The Age and the Herald he left the company because he "didn't agree with management on a range of things". He declined to discuss the appointment of an administrator at GBA or the allegations of serious misconduct that occurred after his departure.
The Age and the Herald do not suggest any wrongdoing by Mr Robb.
The founder and director of GBA, Bryan McGoldrick, and wife Katherine claim they are owed $797,664 by the doomed wellness business, while a company owned by Mr McGoldrick's family, Maliblue Pty Ltd, is owed $2,470,937, according to a report by the administrator.
Companies owned by Mr McGoldrick's brother and son are also owed significant debts.
However, Mr McGoldrick took out a loan of $715,030 from the company in December 2019 after the Commonwealth Bank of Australia agreed to provide GBA with a temporary overdraft facility, according to minutes of a board meeting.
Separate loan documents reveal Mr McGoldrick and his wife also planned to act as guarantor on a $1.3 million loan by Global Brands Australia Pty Ltd in November 2019, which was to be used by the couple to purchase a property in North Ringwood.
The funds were to be provided by a Melbourne lawyer at an interest rate of 12 per cent over six months, with a $28,600 establishment fee, according to a draft of the loan agreement obtained by The Age and the Herald.
The company loans are expected to be examined by the administrator on behalf of creditors and GBA staff who were terminated from their jobs on February 16 and have not received some entitlements.
Mr McGoldrick did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite its lofty ambitions to list on the ASX and conquer China, the company had a combined overdraft of $40,217 across five bank accounts when it was placed into administration in February.
In an eleventh-hour bid to escape liquidation, GBA entered into an agreement in January to sell its Celebrity Slim business, which would involve the proceeds being used to settle the secured debt with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, while the unnamed purchasing entity would then be back-door listed on the ASX.
The complex deal has not been finalised and negotiations are ongoing, according to the administrator.
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