Struck off financial adviser Andrew Robinson, who is separately accused of stealing investor funds, has been ordered to pay $2.56 million in damages plus costs to an investor over a series of negligent and misleading deals.
In the Auckland High Court, Justice John Fogarty made the order against Robinson, a former Sunday Star-Times columnist and adviser to Neville Mace and his family trust, over "six disastrous investments" which were "all made on the recommendation of Mr Robinson, as an investment advisor," according to a July 1 judgment, now published on the Justice Ministry's website.
Between 2008 and 2012, the Mace family trust made investments in NZX-listed electricity retailer Pulse Utilities, start-up investments Digi-Clik International, Zeroshift, bio-tech start-up Enviro Energy, and a loan to Pulse director James Martin on the advice of Robinson.
The judge said Robinson didn't provide any significant warnings around the risks involved in the start-up companies, and that when he said he was investing at a similar level, didn't disclose he was doing so by being paid in scrip for finding investors.
Of the four claims made under the Fair Trading Act, "the plaintiffs were induced to enter extremely high risk investments by reason of Mr Robinson, in trade, engaging in conduct that was misleading and deceptive and was likely to, and did, mislead or deceive Mr Mace in having a wholly inappropriate confidence in the merit of the investment," the judge said.
Robinson took advantage of the relationship he'd built with Mace and "relied on the personal confidence that Mr Mace had in him when making these recommendations to invest in these very high risk investments," the judge said.
Justice Fogarty also ruled Robinson was liable in the negligence for the advice he gave on all of the investments, which he said "falls well short of the quality of advice required in the circumstances by an investment advisor.
"But it is an incomplete description of Mr Robinson's conduct to describe it as a lack of proper care and attention or carelessness. It was deliberately misleading," the judge said. "To be sure, the deceptive and misleading conduct carried with it the consequence that Mr Robinson did not take reasonable care to avoid advice which would like cause financial harm to the Mace Trust."
Robinson represented himself and tried to characterise all equity investments as being aggressive, irrespective of the quality of the company, given their unsecured status.
"This absence of risk advice explains the importance of the distinction Mr Robinson endeavoured to maintain from the outset that any investment in equities is aggressive without distinguishing between investment in a proven performing 'blue chip' company and a listed start-up," the judgment said.
Justice Fogarty ordered Robinson to pay damages including interest of $400,000 for the Pulse dealings, $230,000 for the Digi-Clik investment, $30,000 for the loan to Martin via a trust, $1.1 million for the investment in Enviro Energy and $800,000 for the investment in Zeroshift.
If the Mace family trust is able to find a buyer for any of the securities it still holds, any value is to be credited against the judgment.
Separately, Robinson faces charges from the Serious Fraud Office accusing him of stealing $3 million of investor funds. He and fellow SPG Investments director Mark Turnock also face criminal proceedings brought by the Financial Markets Authority under the Financial Reporting Act. They're due to stand trial in the High Court in April next year.