Petricevic sentenced to 6.5 years' jail - some to be served in 'country club'

Bridgecorp managing director Rod Petricevic has been jailed in the High Court in Auckland today for six and a half years. He faced up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Bridgecorp managing director Rod Petricevic has been jailed for six and a half years, some of which he is expected to serve in Waikato's Spring Hill prison - known as "The Country Club".

Justice Geoff Venning  delivered the sentence at Auckland High Court this morning.

Suited and in a white shirt but without a tie, Petricevic (62) sat impassively in the dock looking straight ahead throughout the morning, after a late start when the prison van bringing him from his remand cell was caught in traffic.

His wife Mary, who showed no emotion, was comforted in a side room by her sons after the sentencing, quickly leaving the packed courtroom as Petricevic was taken to the cells.

His lawyer Charles Cato was heard to tell the family outside court "it was a  good result".

Petricevic, a keen golfer, can expect to spend his first 12 months in Mt Eden prison, and then possibly be transferred to the Spring Hill jail in north Waikato - also known as "The Country Club".

Justice Venning proposed a starting point for sentencing of seven and a half years in jail.

The Crown pushed hard for a starting point of eight years, saying Bridgecorp was the pinnacle of finance company failures.

But Mr Cato said a six year starting point was more appropriate - public derision and the strain on Petricevic's family had been punishment enough.

Justice Venning acknowledged prison would be difficult for Petricevic, at his age.

That, and the fact it was his first criminal offence, allowed a 10% discount to the prison term.

But the judge was not prepared to give a discount for remorse.

"I am not satisfied you have shown your remorse is genuine. You have said you are remorseful, but at the same time you maintain your innocence."

Petricevic had told his probation officer he believed the prospectus the court found to contain misleading statements, fairly reflected the economy at the time.

"You may be sorry investors lost their money, but that is not true remorse."

Justice Venning acknowledged media scruitiny of Petricevic had been "exceptional", but he was not the first finance company director to have experienced that.

He gave Petricevic a "modest reduction" for the effect the public shame had had on his family.

Petricevic's jail term is the highest imposed on convicted finance company directors to date.

Mr Dickey said the sentence was "very satisfactory".

Petricevic's "overt lying" set him apart from other convicted finance company directors and the sentencing sent a clear message.

"If you knowingly mislead the public, you can go to jail for a long time."

Petricevic could be eligible to apply for parole after serving a third of his jail sentence.


10.55am: Petricevic's lawyer Charles Cato has proposed six years in jail as an appropriate starting point for his client.

He said Petricevic had no previous convictions.

 

"When an older man falls from grace and is separated from family and friends, the fall is harder than for somebody younger," he said.

 

Public derision and the strain on Petricevic's family had been punishment enough.

 

Mr Cato has told the court Petricevic had expressed remorse for his role in Bridgecorp's collapse.

 

But Justice Venning has asked just how genuine that was.

 

Petricevic, from the witness box during the trial, said sorry for the losses investors had experienced following Bridgecorp's collapse.

 

But Justice Venning said that was more a venture of regret fof losses that have been suffered, than remorse.

 

"Fundamental to remorse is an understanding you have done something morally wrong and an accepting of it.

 

"There just doesn't seem to be any evidence of that in the material before me," said Justice Venning.

 


10.10am: Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey is proposing a starting point of seven to eight years' jail time for Rod Petricevic.

Bridgecorp was the "pinnacle of market fraud cases", he said.

This was because of the nature of the lies told to the public, the length of time they were maintained (between December 2006 and June 2007) and the amount of investor money that was lost.

Petricevic's behaviour as managing director also added cynicism to the offending, Mr Dickey said.

"Not only was the prisoner prepared to distrubute the lies through offer documents, he also participated or led, together with others in the senior management of Bridgecorp, a collective or conspiratorial view that investors be lied to when they rang in". 

It was not just a "hands off permitting of the lies", but a "very active role" Petricevic had played, Mr Dickey said.

Petricevic's personal interest in the company was another factor that set him apart from his co-accused. Fellow directors Rob Roest and Peter Steigrad will be sentenced next month. Gary Urwin was sentenced to two years in jail earlier this month.

Petricevic, or interests associated with him, was the majority shareholder in the Bridgecorp group of companies, held more than 60% of its shares and was the group managing director, Mr Dickey said.

"Mr Petricevic, more so than any other of the accused, had a personal interest in the financial outcome of Bridgecorp."

It was difficult to see he had shown genuine remorse to his offending, Mr Dickey said.

His apology to investors, given during the trial, had to be seen in the light of the fact he had then gone on to give evidence in his defence and maintained his innocence.

And no offer of reparation had been made.

Mr Dickey said a seven to eight-year jail term was appropriate, on the basis of "totality" - considering the Securities Act, Companies Act and Crimes Act charges that Petricevic was convicted of  together.

The Companies Act  and Securities Act charges carry a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment or a fine of $300,000.

The Crimes Act charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

Given there was duplication of offencing across the charges, Justice Venning has indicated he would consider the Crimes Act charges as the lead offence.

MORE SOON


8am: Convicted Bridgecorp managing director Rod Petricevic spent his final night in remand prison last night.

Today he will find out where, and for how long, he will serve an expected jail term. 

Justice Geoff Venning indicated jail was inevitable for Petricevic, 62, and fellow accused director Rod Roest, when he found them guilty on all charges of misleading investors in the company's 2007 collapse.

The ten Securities Act charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail or a fine of $300,000.

The Crimes Act charges the pair were also convicted of carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said the Crown would be pushing for lengthy jail sentences - “more than have been seen so far in similar cases".

Nathans Finance former chairman Roger Moses and director Mervyn Doolan were convicted on five-charges of breaching the Securities Act after a three-month High Court trial last year.

They were jailed for two years two months and two years four months respectively.

Petricevic and Roest were remanded in custody until sentencing.

Bail was requested: Lawyers for both men said their clients had family commitments and wanted to spend Easter with their loved ones.

But Justice Venning said the six-month-spanning trial had afforded them enough time to put their affairs in order. They went straight to Auckland Central Remand Prison.

Terms of imprisonment are likely to be served at another jail outside of Auckland, possible Rangipo Prison near Waiouru.

Petricevic's sentencing, at Auckland High Court this morning, is three weeks ahead of the sentencing of Roest and a third convicted director Peter Steigrad.

The earlier date is due to the overseas commitment of Petricevic's lawyer, Charles Cato, who has accepted the position of Supreme Court Justice of Tonga.

Petricevic will get some time out of jail in September to appear in the Auckland District Court to defend another set of charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

These relate to Petricevic’s purchase of luxury motor boat Medici and a series of payments to a Panmure spray tanner Janita Wright.

Ms Wright, romantically linked to Petricevic and facing business woes of her own, will be a witness at the trial.

Meanwhile, fellow Bridgecorp director Gary Urwin has just completed the first week of his two-year jail sentence.

The 62-year, who sat out the lengthy trial in Sydney, went straight to jail from Auckland High Court last Tuesday, after Justice Pamela Andrews delivered the sentence.

Provided he keeps his nose clean in jail he can expect to be free in one year after serving half his term.

Urwin pleaded guilty to 10 Securities Act charges ahead of the trial.

He is understood to be considering an appeal on the judge’s decision to not substitute the two-year jail term for a home detention sentence.

However, legal experts say the chance of a successful appeal are slim

Bridgecorp chairman Davidson also pleaded guilty, ahead of the trial, to the same charges facing Urwin.

But he escaped jail. Instead he was sentenced to nine months’ home detention, 200 hours of community work and ordered to make reparation of $500,000.

Bridgecorp collapsed into receivership in June 2007 owing $459 million to 14,500 investors - an average of about $33,000 each.  The likely recovery for investors is less than 10c in the dollar. 
 

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