Adani employee and traditional owner referred to ASIC over million-dollar trust fund collapse
A traditional owner employed by Adani has been referred to Australia’s corporate watchdog for investigation over the collapse of a million-dollar trust fund set up to hold mining income for the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people.
- ASIC asked to investigate whether Irene Simpson committed offences while overseeing the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) charitable trust
- Ms Simpson took a job with Adani in October 2017 after negotiating a contentious land access deal for the W&J people
- There are concerns about financial transactions without supporting evidence, including $30,000 listed as “family and community expenses”
An administrator has asked the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to investigate whether W&J representative Irene Simpson committed offences while overseeing the Indigenous group’s charitable trust.
The winding-up of the trustee company over unpaid debts has revealed there is little left over for traditional owners despite receiving income, property and mining royalty entitlements worth about $1.1 million since 2014.
Ms Simpson, who took a job with Adani after negotiating a contentious land access deal for its Queensland mine, was the controlling director of the trustee company, Cato Galilee.
The administrator last month found she allowed it to trade while insolvent and may have breached her duties under the Corporations Act.
“I intend to report the above [possible] offences to ASIC shortly,” Christopher Baskerville of Jirsch Sutherland, said in a report to creditors.
He has since been appointed liquidator.
Irene Simpson, seated at the front of the room, at an Indigenous engagement session in Cherbourg. (Facebook: Adani Australia)
Mr Baskerville’s report found Cato was insolvent from February when it closed its bank accounts and “the director should have been aware that the company was unable to pay its debts as and when they fall due”.
But in July, Ms Simpson filed an affidavit in the Federal Court, saying “Cato has sufficient funds to pay its debts as and when they fall due”.
She did so in response to an application to the court by Adrian Burragubba, a shareholder and former director of Cato, to access its financial records.
Mr Burragubba is leading resistance to Adani within the W&J and part of a legal challenge to its land access deal.
In an affidavit in support of his application, Mr Burragubba raised concerns that the company was unable to pay its debts and that trust funds had been “depleted or misdirected without regard to the charitable objects of the trust”.
In August, lawyers for Cato and Ms Simpson responded in a Federal Court submission that Mr Burragubba had “failed to establish any basis for a concern about the solvency of the respondent, let alone any concern about a misdirection of trust funds”.
In October, Ms Simpson put Cato into administration.
Her lawyers were later listed as creditors owed $33,000.
Questions about where money has gone
The ABC has obtained a report by accounting firm TO Corporate Interface — engaged by Mr Burragubba to analyse Cato’s financial records — which found the trustee reported income of almost $650,000 since 2014, mainly native title mining payments.
The creditor’s report shows the trust is owed another $175,000 in royalties from 20 mining companies including Rio Tinto and Hancock Coal.
The trust also held an estimated $275,000 equity in a property in Clermont it received from Rio.
Some traditional owners are looking to an upcoming forensic audit to address questions about where the money has gone.
The TO Corporate Interface report recommended the audit to “determine whether anyone in the company has exploited control weaknesses to misappropriate assets for personal gain”.
Concern about ‘family and community expenses’
It cited concerns about financial transactions without supporting evidence, including $30,000 listed as “family and community expenses”.
There was also $62,000 in credit card payments including for unexplained expenses tagged as “dental” and at “supermarkets and takeaway food stores [and] Kmart and Big W”.
The report also recommended the audit examine $94,000 transferred to a company, Doongmabulla Pty Ltd, of which Ms Simpson was also a director and shareholder.
Mr Baskerfield told creditors he did not believe any money could be recovered from that company as it had been deregistered and owned “no real property”.
“The director has not had the opportunity to present a formal defence to any insolvent trading claim,” Mr Baskerfield said.
“However, the director has advised that several large mining companies have offered to assist the company with its debts and restructuring process.”
Simpson paid $109,000 in wages
Cato paid Ms Simpson wages totalling $109,000, as well as payments for W&J representatives to attend meetings with Adani, the TO Corporate Interface report found.
Ms Simpson has worked for Adani’s Indigenous engagement team since October 2017.
Before that, Ms Simpson publicly advocated for a deal with the miner, and was among the seven of 12 W&J representatives who swung support in favour of Adani.
The W&J is split over the Queensland mine, with the other five representatives challenging Adani’s Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) in the Federal Court.
The court will likely hear that challenge in May, meaning no significant work on the mine could take place until the second half of 2019.
The ABC contacted Ms Simpson to request an interview.
A partner at Enyo Lawyers said Ms Simpson remained their client and was not available.
An Adani spokeswoman said the company “does not comment on private matters of its employees”.