05/09/2008 - 06:21

Anderson key in Firepower collapse

05/09/2008 - 06:21

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Perth businessman Warren Anderson has been named as a key player in the collapse of fuel pill company Firepower, which left its shareholders millions of dollars out of pocket.

Anderson key in Firepower collapse

Perth businessman Warren Anderson has been named as a key player in the collapse of fuel pill company Firepower, which left its shareholders millions of dollars out of pocket.

About 80 shareholders attended an informal meeting chaired by Bryan Hughes, the court-appointed liquidator of Firepower Operations, in Perth last night.

Perth businessman Tim Johnston has been trying to set up a new version of his failed company by cannibalising the firm's own stock, Firepower's liquidator said this month.

Firepower, which was wound up in the Federal Court last month, has about 1,200 shareholders who invested between $80 and $100 million.

It also owes millions of dollars to creditors, including the Western Force rugby team and the now-defunct Sydney Kings basketball team.

Firepower laid claim to a super pill for petrol tanks which would reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent. It was run and owned by former New Zealand businessman Tim Johnston.

Mr Johnston has been named as a defendant in Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) proceedings.

ASIC alleges Firepower and its subsidiaries failed to properly disclose to shareholders company information such as prospectuses, contravening the Corporations Act.

The corporate watchdog has also named Mr Anderson's company, Owston Nominees, as a defendant.

It alleges Owston Nominees was issued 40 million one-cent shares in Firepower's Virgin islands-based parent company, Firepower BVI in June 2005 and on-sold them for up to 50c a share.

Mr Anderson is not named as a defendant in the statement of claim.

At the shareholders' meeting last night, Mr Hughes said he believed Mr Anderson had been a director of Firepower BVI for a significantly longer time than the very brief period he claims.

"What I can say is that it's my impression that throughout this administration, the liquidation and leading up to the liquidation of the Australian subsidiary, Mr Anderson has been in the background and has been significantly involved," Mr Hughes said.

He said Mr Johnston and Mr Anderson were involved in tactics to delay his appointment as liquidator and further investigate the company.

This included, he said, their appointment of chartered accountants Hall Chadwick as administrators and moves to acquire Firepower's assets shortly before it was wound up.

Mr Anderson's level of involvement was not unexpected, he told shareholders.

"This is really no surprise to me, given if I'd made in excess of $20 million from the sale of Firepower shares ... I think I'd be fairly keen that there were not investigations into the affairs of the company.

"Mr Johnston and Mr Anderson have made tens of millions of dollars each which have come from your pockets."

Mr Hughes said there were negligible assets left in Firepower and he could not guarantee shareholders he would recoup any of their money.

But he said there were large chunks of "low-hanging fruit", including tens of millions of dollars in offshore accounts.

He said he expected to be named liquidator of Firepower BVI later this month, which would give him the ability to track the cash if it was moved.

Among the shareholders was Perth businessman Ross Graham, the biggest investor in Firepower, who put in $20 million after being convinced of the fuel pill's effectiveness by Tim Johnston.

Mr Graham said he had initially approached Mr Hughes to investigate Firepower as his concerns over his investment grew. He has also contributed to the liquidator's fighting fund.

"I don't want to let these bastards get away with this. I'm not going to let these guys stooge, rip us all off," Mr Graham said.

"He (Mr Johnston) was a pretty good silver tongue."

Another shareholder, Noel Singleton, lost about $500,000 of his own money and another $250,000 invested by his wife, daughters and brother.

He sold his mechanical business, thinking he was going to live off the proceeds of his shares and also gave his parents in law, Ted and Val Lyons, 10,000 shares.

"We're very, very angry. You just hate to see your family hurt," Ms Lyons said.

Firepower, which used some of its investors' funds to become the country's biggest sporting sponsor, secured the use of a 4,200-tonne navy guided missile frigate for a gala sponsorship function in Sydney in 2006, Fairfax has reported.

In August, WA Business News revealed financial information about Firepower missing when a computer was taken out of Australia prior to the firm going into administration.

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