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Mopping up the One.Tel mess

AS the toll from the corporate pile-up mounts, Australia’s chief financial regulator has been prompted to farm out its work around the nation, leaving the high profile One.Tel investigation in the hands of Perth-based Stephen Howell.

The WA head of enforcement at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission said he took on the role of leading and managing the One.Tel matter when the company collapsed late in the last financial year.

ASIC was already coping with the dramatic disintegration of insurance giant HIH as well as surprise failure of national retailer Harris Scarfe.

All three of these big corporate collapses have required significant ASIC activity, particularly in investigating the area of directors’ knowledge ahead of public annoucements and the very sensitive issue of insolvent trading.

Mr Howell said the One.Tel work has meant constant trips and video-links with Sydney where the main investigation work is being undertaken. But he has not shed his other responsibilities for the task, which should finish before the end of 2001.

Just how much demand One.Tel has placed on ASIC at this busy time is unclear and the regulator is not keen to divulge exactly what is going into this matter.

“It is significantly resourced because it is a priority,” Mr Howell said.

“We don’t like to give an indication of resources.”

But he said other WA staff were involved in some capacity.

“This investigation shows that ASIC is truly a national enforcement agency,” Mr Howell said.

Mr Howell reports directly to Melbourne-based executive director of enforcement Peter Wood on this investigation.

His recent corporate investigation experience includes the Farmer Furniture case in WA, the first instance of directors being charged for insolvent trading in Australia.

Technology has played a big part in allowing a Perth-based officer to run such a big case from his own office.

“We have high quality litigation support technology to help us manage this task,” Mr Howell said.

“Meetings are not a problem, I am either there personally or we use technology like video-conferencing.”

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