Failed insurance firms former CEO has fraud trial delayed until 2023 due to Auckland Covid-19 lockdown

A former chief executive facing fraud charges after the collapse of a $747 million insurance company must now wait until 2023 for his trial.

The arrival of the Covid-19 Delta variant in the community saw an abrupt halt to many court proceedings around the country, while Auckland’s lengthy lockdown continues to prevent trials from being held in the city.

CBL Insurance’s former chief executive Peter Harris and the firm’s ex-chief financial officer Carden Mulholland were due to stand trial in September on several charges filed by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in late 2019.

However, after the global pandemic gave New Zealanders a dose of reality in August the proceeding was adjourned.

Jury trials cannot be held during alert levels 3 and 4, according to the operating protocols for the District Court and High Court. In order to provide some certainty to jurors, participants and lawyers, the Chief Justice also announced there will be no Auckland jury trials in October regardless of alert level.

At a short digital hearing in the High Court at Auckland today, Justice Sally Fitzgerald considered when a new eight-week trial could be scheduled. Ultimately a date in April 2023 was agreed upon, highlighting the significant delays and congestion in the country’s court system due to Covid-19.

Mulholland, the court heard, is still hopeful of having his trial this year but Auckland’s Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey said this was doubtful and a joint trial with Harris in 18 months was the most likely outcome.

The 66-year-old Harris, who was the CEO and managing director of CBL Insurance and the managing director of CBL Corporation from January 2007, faces five charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, two of obtaining by deception, and a charge of false accounting.

Mulholland, 50, is charged with theft by a person in a special relationship, obtaining by deception and false accounting.

Both men also remain on bail until their trial.

A third man, Alistair Hutchison, was also charged with obtaining by deception earlier this year by the SFO. He was a shareholder and non-executive director of CBL Insurance when the NZX-listed company collapsed in 2018 with a market capitalisation of $747m.

Hutchison, 83, is set to have his own one-week trial in July next year.

A group of civil cases are also running concurrently to the prosecutions, including two class actions by CBL’s shareholders, FMA pecuniary penalty actions, and a liquidators’ action on behalf of unsecured creditors.

CBL’s shares were valued at $3.17 when suspended from trading on the NZX and ASX in February 2018 after the company revealed the Reserve Bank of New Zealand had been questioning its solvency.

Both CBL Corporation and CBL Insurance were placed into liquidation by the High Court in 2018.

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