Eatery’s $8m food fight

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - BRENDEN HILLS COURT RE­PORTER

A RESTAU­RANT em­pire and celebrity hotspot fa­mous for chauf­feur­ing VIP din­ers in its Rolls Royce is now fac­ing an $8 mil­lion law­suit over a fleet of lux­ury cars.

Since open­ing at Par­ra­matta in 2003, the Criniti’s chain of Ital­ian eater­ies has ex­panded to eight out­lets in­clud­ing the celebrity favourite on Wool­loomooloo Wharf.

But liq­uida­tors claim the restau­rant chain’s cash re­serves and glam­orous fa­cade was boosted be­cause al­most $8 mil­lion was al­legedly trans­ferred from a fail­ing lux­ury car com­pany at a time it was in­sol­vent.

The liq­uida­tors have launched two le­gal ac­tions in the NSW Supreme Court against the restau­rant chain, its owner Frank Criniti and his glam­orous es­tranged wife Rima in an at­tempt to re­coup that money.

Mr and Mrs Criniti have lodged de­fences and deny breach­ing any law.

Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ten­dered to the court, failed lux­ury car com­pany Auswide Auto Whole­salers is at the cen­tre of the dis­pute.

Mr Criniti is a for­mer di­rec­tor of the com­pany that spe­cialised in buy­ing high-end lux­ury cars us­ing money bor­rowed from a fi­nance com­pany. The cars were ei­ther on­sold or used by the restau­rant.

Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments, the busi­ness hit a hur­dle thanks to “tighter scru­tiny on fi­nance reg­ula- tions” and was put into the hands of Syd­ney liq­ui­dat­ing firm Cor Cordis in March 2013, al­legedly ow­ing $676,541 to the Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice.

But when the liq­uida­tors be­gan por­ing over the busi­ness’ books, they al­legedly dis­cov­ered $7.9 mil­lion worth of pay­ments and loans that had been made to Mr and Mrs Criniti and the restau­rant be­tween 2009 and 2013, court doc­u­ments said.

The liq­uida­tors claim the pay­ments were made il­le­gally for a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing that they were made at a time when the car busi­ness was al­ready in­sol­vent.

In his de­fence state­ment, Mr Criniti ad­mit­ted to re­ceiv­ing the pay­ments from the com­pany. But he de­nied they were made il­le­gally and said the e money was never the prop­erty of the lux­ury ux­ury car com­pany.

In her de­fence state­ment, tate­ment, Mrs Criniti de­nied d she bor­rowed any money and said she “does not know and can­not ad­mit” to the al­le­ga­tions gations be­cause they re­lated to her hus­band.

Mr Criniti had been een a di­rec­tor of the car com­pany from 2009 un­til May 2012. The liq­uida­tors ida­tors claim Mr Criniti “pur­ported to o re­sign” but still re­mained as a be­hind hind the scenes di­rec­tor. Mr Criniti de­nies this.

The case is listed to be heard in the NSW Supreme Court rt to­mor­row.

The fa­mous Criniti's Rolls Royce that de­liv­ered VIPs to and from the restau­rant and (right) Rima Criniti.

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