Australia’s corporate watchdog has sought Federal Court approval to wind up Joseph Gutnick’s publicly-listed company, Merlin Diamonds, and flagged an inquiry into whether the colourful Melbourne businessman has breached his director’s duties.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) move against the man known as “Diamond Joe” due to his appetite for outback diamond and gold deposits confirms the worst fears of Merlin Diamonds’ shareholders, who have already endured a seven-month trading ban on the company’s stock.
Court filings released to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday show ASIC is seeking an order to appoint Deloitte as liquidators of Merlin Diamonds, which had a market capitalisation of just $20 million when its stock was banned from trading last October.
ASIC has for months been probing how Merlin Diamonds has loaned $13 million of investor money to a private company, AXIS Consultants, which has long been associated with Mr Gutnick.
“The loans have been used to fund private companies associated with Joseph Gutnick and provide no discernible benefit to Merlin Diamonds,” ASIC said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
In one example cited by ASIC, it alleges Merlin Diamonds in October 2016 received $900,000 from a Mr Gutnick-linked company, Chabad Properties, for convertible notes and options issued to Chabad.
“The ultimate source of the $900,000 paid by Chabad, through a series of transactions involving related companies, was Merlin Diamonds. Mr Gutnick is a former director of Chabad,” ASIC’s media statement revealed.
Mr Gutnick, who resumed the chairmanship of Merlin Diamonds after emerging from a self-imposed bankruptcy last year, and his wife, Stera Gutnick, are also named in the ASIC’s court filing to wind up Merlin Diamonds. Mrs Gutnick is not a director of Merlin Diamonds and is not understood to be personally under investigation.
ASIC has asked the liquidators to examine and provide an opinion on whether Mr Gutnick and other past and present Merlin Diamonds directors and officers, have breached the Corporations Act.
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