23/09/2021 - 12:56

Quintis, senior executives embroiled in defamation action

23/09/2021 - 12:56

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Quintis and several of its senior executives are facing defamation action at the hands of the company's former director, a claim it intends to vigorously defend.

According to a writ lodged in the Supreme Court, Mr Scott has launched the legal action against Quintis over defamatory comments allegedly contained in three letters to ASIC.

Former Quintis director Graeme Scott is suing the company and several of its most senior executives over defamatory comments allegedly contained in a series of letters to the corporate watchdog, but the company has vowed to vigorously defend its position.

According to a writ lodged in the Supreme Court, Mr Scott has launched the legal action against Quintis’ chief financial officer Alistair Stevens, non-executive director Julius Matthys, chief executive Richard Henfrey, chair Mel Ashton and several entities attached to the Perth-based sandalwood producer, including Sandalwood Properties and Quintis Holdco.

In the writ, Mr Scott alleges the parties made false and defamatory statements in three letters sent to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission between May 26, 2021, and June 18, 2021.

Mr Scott and his lawyer Jonelle Dilena have sought damages for the alleged defamation, including aggravated damages, as well as an injunction that would prevent the parties from repeating or republishing the defamatory comments.

A Quintis spokesperson told Business News the letters were submissions to ASIC sent to assist with its ongoing assessment into whether to award an Australian Financial Services Licence to Agri Management, a newly-established agricultural business manager Mr Scott is now affiliated with.

The spokesperson said Quintis intended to vigorously defend its position on the grounds that the statements were true and covered by qualified privilege.

"Quintis maintains its statements to ASIC are not defamatory, are true, and are consistent with qualified privilege which allows free communication where the person communicating the statement has a legal, moral or social duty to make it, and the recipient has a corresponding interest in receiving it," the spokesperson said.

But Mr Scott told Business News the comments were made in an attempt to prevent Agri Management from obtaining a licence, statements he was not prepared to accept.

"This defamatory material arose simply because Quintis were trying to prevent Agri Management’s licence application so they could deny Growers the opportunity of selecting Agri as their RE," he said.

"The law does not protect communications that are knowingly false or have been published without any concern for the truth or accuracy of those statements.

"It seems that Quintis believe that they can say or do anything for their own ends without consequences. 

"I am not prepared to accept this."

Quintis, which was first established in 1998 as Tropical Forestry Services, manages and operates 6,500 hectares of irrigated Indian sandalwood plantations in the Kimberley to facilitate the cultivation and sale of sandalwood oil.

Mr Scott was a founding director and major shareholder of TFS, later Quintis, from its inception until 2018 before taking on the role of responsible manager for Agri Management.

Agri Management is aiming to become the responsible entity for existing agricultural investment schemes, with a special focus on Indian sandalwood.

The company has not specified which schemes, but given that focus, that is likely to mean schemes operated by Quintis.

The legal action comes amid a major Federal Court battle between ASIC and former Quintis managing director Frank Wilson over allegations he failed to adequately disclose to the company's board the status of a major sandalwood oil supply contract it struck with a pharmaceutical company linked to Nestle.

ASIC has alleged Mr Wilson knew the contracts had been terminated in early 2017, but failed to disclose that until several months later, constituting a breach of his duty as managing director.

Further, the commission alleged that when Quintis responded to an ASX query in March 2017, Mr Wilson allowed Quintis to release misleading information about the status of the contracts.

Confirmation of the failed deal and details about the lack of disclosure caused the company’s share price to drop more than 43 per cent in 24 hours and prompted a voluntary trading halt.

ASIC commenced legal proceedings against Mr Wilson back in June 2018, with the matter currently before the Federal Court.

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