A Hamilton finance company is chasing more than four million dollars from a former employer who has since allegedly fled the country.
A High Court judge has ruled there was “substantial support” for claims Richard Whitham transferred the money to his personal bank accounts in May, granting former employer WorldClear, a freezing order over Whitham’s accounts and that of his company T1, to protect their remaining funds.
While the order also places T1 into interim liquidation the freezing order expressly stated that it did not affect anyone outside New Zealand.
According to the High Court Whitham was the sole director and shareholder of T1, a firm set up to open bank accounts and conduct financial transactions on behalf of Worldclear.
Worldclear was set up in 2014 by Hamilton man David Hillary to provide account, foreign exchange and payment services.
In August 2017, Hillary employed Whitham to establish relationships with the banks.
But that approach was unsuccessful, so, in December 2017, Hillary come up with a new approach.
They formed T1, of which Mr Whitham would initially be sole director and shareholder.
T1 would open bank accounts and conduct financial transactions on behalf of Worldclear.
These later had a second person from Worldclear appointed as signatory.
By May 17 there was $4,611,535 in accounts operated by T1 when Whitham said he had to leave work early to attend to a domestic matter and did not expect to be back the following day.
Hillary asked Whitham to approve a payment of US$1,199,500 and at 2.43pm that day, Whitham sent an email with an attachment purporting to show that the payment was approved and was in “ASB processing” status.
But Hillary said the payee never received the funds.
The next day, Hillary sent Whitham a text message advising him that Worldclear had two large foreign exchange transactions to be processed that morning.
Whitham replied saying that he was at the doctor and would hopefully be back to his house soon.
Hillary then realised that his staff were unable to access T1 accounts at the ANZ, BNZ, and ASB banks that morning, and he raised that by text with Whitham.
Whitham sent a text message back saying “that is weird”, and that he would check his own access to the accounts when he got back from the doctor.
There were two further text messages from Hillary to Whitham that morning, where Hillary said “we need to talk”, and “what is happening?”.
Whitham did not reply.
“We then called ANZ and asked to access the transaction information, and were informed that [Mr Whitham] had ordered the transfer of almost all of the available funds to his personal account in ASB,” Hillary said in his evidence.
Hillary then visited the address he understood to be Whitham’s home address and was told the family had moved three months earlier. Hillary then made a report to the police and says he was told that Whitham had left the country.
On the same day, Hillary alleged that he found that Worldclear’s Dropbox folder had been accessed remotely from a Singapore address and files relating to Whitham’s employment as well as folders relating to T1 bank accounts were being deleted.
Hillary told the court he believed Whitham had left the country and remaining funds in T1’s accounts could be in jeopardy, leading to the High Court freezing application.
In his judgment, Associate Judge Warwick Smith said the allegations by Worldclear had merit.
“Worldclear says that T1 was used as a vehicle for perpetrating a fraud on it. It says that the principle perpetrator was its own employee, and the only money involved appears to have been owned by Worldclear,” Associate Judge Smith said.
“Worldclear’s allegations appear to have substantial support in the apparently abrupt departure of Mr Whitham without any notice to Worldclear, the instructions given by Mr Whitham to the banks to terminate access to T1 accounts by Worldclear employees, and the apparent removal of Worldclear money from a T1 account with the ANZ Bank to Mr Whitham’s personal account with the ASB Bank.”
Whitham and T1 were not represented in court.
It is understood that Whitham is still overseas.