Saturday, December 2, 2023

Former stock agent faces 24 charges

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The Serious Fraud Office has laid charges against a former high-flying livestock agent relating to transactions totalling $2 million.
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Former Rural Livestock agent John Francis Williams, 38, is facing 17 charges of false accounting, two of obtaining by deception, one of causing loss by deception and four of theft.

Williams appeared in the Dunedin District Court on Thursday to plead not guilty to all charges.

In a statement an SFO spokesman alleged Williams deceived his former employer and a number of the firm’s clients in relation to transactions totalling about $2m.

Williams was employed by the Christchurch-based firm from 2008 till his employment was terminated in May 2016.

Rural Livestock laid a complaint with the SFO about Williams’ conduct in August 2016.

The SFO’s investigations had looked like being wrapped up almost two years ago.

In December 2017 SFO investigator Matthew Preece emailed former clients of Williams.

He said the office had trawled through financial information, records of livestock movements, Nait and LIC records and the investigations were largely completed.

However, it was not till earlier this month that charges were laid against Williams.

In the meantime Rural Livestock has had to defend itself from at least two lawsuits taken by former clients of the Balclutha-based former livestock agent.

Milton farmer Ross Clark sued the firm for $640,000 in the High Court in relation to livestock deals brokered for him by Williams between 2015 and 2016.

In April this year the firm was ordered to pay Clark $207,000 despite arguing Williams had arranged the deals without the authority of his employer.

And in March this year another south Otago farmer, Stephen Brook, sued Rural Livestock in relation to deals done on his behalf by Williams.

In her submissions to the court Brook’s lawyer said Williams had been in the top 5% of the firm’s agents by volume of transactions.

Rural Livestock is the South Island’s largest privately-owned livestock firm with 6500 farmer clients.

Both the SFO investigation of Williams and the civil cases brought against Rural Livestock have sparked calls for more regulation of livestock agents.

In February Federated Farmers said a voluntary code of conduct adopted by the industry last year does not go far enough.

Meat and fibre chairman Miles Anderson said the federation would spend this rest of this year investigating alternative regulatory options before presenting them to the Government.

In the meantime, Williams has been remanded on bail to reappear in the Dunedin District Court on January 24.

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