THE former director of a Tasmanian baby food company is due to face court on criminal charges.
Janet Cameron, 67, the former director of Launceston-based baby formula producer Bellamy’s, will appear before Hobart’s Magistrates Court, after an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The Kathmandu founder could face five years in jail.
JAN Cameron. It’s a plain name for a businesswoman who has long fascinated Tasmania, where she is one of the state’s wealthiest people.
Ms Cameron’s under-theradar modus operandi typically makes her next move hard to predict. She always has one, though. Decisive and some would say divisive, her track record shows she knows how to return serve when challenged.
Today, though, the ball is not in Ms Cameron’s court.
Instead, the enigmatic entrepreneur eyes the possibility of years in jail if convicted on two criminal charges following an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
To that end, Ms Cameron was not Jan yesterday. She was Janet Heather Cameron, of Hobart, in the court documents that may interrupt her long and unpredictable run doing what she appears to love doing best – making gobsmacking amounts of money.
Ms Cameron, 67, will appear before Hobart’s Magistrates Court next month on charges dating to her time as a director of Launceston-based baby formula producer Bellamy’s Australia.
So, yesterday was not a day for the nature lover to sew sleeping bags for herself and friends, as she once did, sowing the seeds of the Kathmandu empire with which she made her initial fortune.
It was not a day for importing discount retail stock for the bargain-basement Chickenfeed chain she once owned.
It was not a day to buy up and mothball key privately owned regional East Coast assets such as the former Gunns woodchip mill at Triabunna, though attracting the ire of local residents has never seemed to bother her.
“My approach is to sit on something, wait for the right timing and then, when you feel the planets align, you do something,” she told TasWeekend in a 2016 profile piece.
It was not a day to scrap with former business partners and philanthropic beneficiaries, for which she also has a reputation, nor even a time to donate tens of millions to her chosen animal welfare and environmental causes, as is her wont.
And nor was it a day to take a high-minded stand, as in 2016, when she mounted the Save the Farms campaign to keep Australia’s prime agricultural land locally owned.
It was partly that wish – a view shared by a vast majority of respondents in the Mercury’s Big Issues survey last month – that fuelled her involvement in a consortium bid to buy Australia’s largest dairy enterprise, Tasmania’s Van Diemen’s Land Company, that same year.
TasFoods Ltd was initially announced as the successful VDL bidder, with Ms Cameron to chip in $50 million to the $250 million offer. They thought they had a deal, then the property was controversially sold for $280 million to Chinese businessman Lu Xianfeng’s Moon Lake Investments. When new management decisions created community unease, it fed straight into the response when the sale of Bellamy’s itself was announced as practically a done deal late last year.
The $1.5 billion takeover bid by the China Mengniu Dairy Company prompted both Independent Member for Clark Andrew Wilkie and Greens Senator Peter WhishWilson to flag concerns in Canberra. Mr Wilkie spoke of community anxiety about the Hong Kong-listed company’s offer to the Tasmanian-based business, which was unanimously accepted by the Bellamy’s board.
In Parliament, Mr WhishWilson suggested the share price of Bellamy’s may have been intentionally suppressed by the Chinese Government’s refusal almost two years ago to grant the necessary certification to enable the company to keep exporting into the country.
This followed a difficult period and stock market turbulence for the company when it was unable to meet skyrocketing demand, particularly from China, for the organic baby formula product.
At that time, the Mercury was told by a usually reliable source that some Tasmanians were set to profit handsomely from the proposed sale.
And the top name mentioned to this journalist was none other than the plainsounding corporate raider Jan Cameron, who was predicted to receive $285 million for her share in the company.
And, with it, a whole lot of trouble, it seems.
For now, Ms Cameron’s future lies with the court, with the charges against her to be prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
In a nutshell, ASIC, the corporate regulator, alleges that in
2014 Ms Cameron failed to disclose her whole and true interest in Bellamy’s, including via her association with an offshore entity known as The Black Prince Foundation, a major investor in the company.
We asked Ms Cameron about that association in the 2016 profile. At that time, Ms Cameron told reporter Sally Glaetzer that The Black Prince was not hers but her private investment company, the Elsie Cameron Foundation, which she also used for charitable purposes, owned a small stake in the company.
Our questions followed speculation in the Australian
Financial Review in May 2015 that Ms Cameron had reinvested in the baby-food brand via The Black Prince Foundation. In mid-2014 Ms Cameron had collected $36 million when Bellamy’s listed on the Australian
Stock Exchange, recouping handsomely on an initial $5 million investment.
The AFR yesterday reported that in January 2017, when she wanted to spill the Bellamy’s board, Ms Cameron said: “I don’t have any connection to The Black Prince Foundation. But we are part of a group that represents about 35 per cent of the share register.”
Ms Cameron’s involvement with Black Prince was revealed amid that boardroom battle and shareholder revolt in 2017.
Ms Cameron remained a shareholder in Bellamy’s until the sale last year. The
Mercury was unable to reach Ms Cameron for comment yesterday.