Dominion Finance's Bettle and Arkinstall in last-ditch bid to avoid trial

The pair, who have both held prominent positions in the corporate community, are in Auckland High Court today, where a pre-trial hearing on their application for discharge without conviction is being heard.

Dominion Finance chairman Richard (Rick) Bettle and director Vance Arkinstall are making a bid to escape the criminal charges they are due to defend in a fortnight.

The pair, who have both held prominent positions in the corporate community, are in Auckland High Court today, where a pre-trial hearing on their application for discharge without conviction is being heard.

Their trial alongside fellow Dominion Finance director Paul Forsyth, brought by the Financial Markets Authority, is due to start on July 1.

Details of their lawyer Tim Castle's submissions cannot be reported because Justice Sarah Katz declared today's hearing on the pre-trial matter to be in chambers. Media are allowed to remain in the court and report only the outcome of Justice Katz's decision - expected to be reserved.

The FMA brought criminal charges against six people involved in Dominion Finance over allegations the offer documents and advertisements  of the company and subsidiary North South Finance misled investors.

Dominion Finance Group, which offered property and commercial loans, was placed in receivership in 2008, owing almost 6000 debenture holders $176.9 million. North South Finance was placed in receivership soon after, owing 3900 debenture holders $31 million. Both companies were subsidiaries of NZX-listed Dominion Finance Holdings, which was placed in liquidation in 2009. 

The criminal charges laid under the Securities Act carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment or fines of up to $300,000, plus $10,000 for every day the offence continued.

Dominion Finance director Terry Butler died in March. His wife Ann Butler and fellow director Robert Barry Whale pleaded guilty to the charges last month and will be sentenced on Friday.

Mr Arkinstall stepped down from his role as frontman for the Investment Savings and Insurance Association in 2010 as he prepared to fight the criminal charges.

Mr Bettle, a director of NZX-listed Diligent Board Member services, is a former chairman of Kensington Swan and past chairman of the Racing Industry Board and the TAB.

Civil proceedings, also brought by the FMA, have been stayed pending resolution of the criminal trial.

Dominion Finance boss Paul Cropp was not charged by the FMA. However he is serving a two-year, seven-month prison sentence after being found guilty of theft following a trial brought by the Serious Fraud Office earlier this year.

He is the first chief executive in the recent finance company trials before the court to be convicted. The theft charges involved related-party lending of about $13.57 million in breach of Dominion's trust deeds.

Mr Whale and a third company executive who has name suppression were found not guilty of the charges.

gbond@nbr.co.nz

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