Hear­ing stumps ex-RFG ex­ecs

The Weekend Australian - - BUSINESS - MICHAEL RODDAN RICK MOR­TON

The for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive and se­nior ex­ec­u­tive of be­lea­guered Re­tail Food Group have been un­able to an­swer a series of ques­tions on no­tice put to them dur­ing a bizarre par­lia­men­tary hear­ing last month.

Tony Al­ford and Ali­cia Atkin­son — once in­ti­mately in­volved in run­ning RFG, which owns fran­chises in­clud­ing Brumbies, Glo­ria Jeans and Donut King — re­sponded to ques­tions through their lawyer Pe­ter Kum­nick, of Gold Coast-based solic­i­tors K2 Law, but were un­able to pro­vide ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about em­ploy­ment agree­ments or even the num­ber of com­pa­nies where di­rec­tor­ships were held.

At the par­lia­men­tary hear­ing, Mr Al­ford in­sisted on start­ing each an­swer with the word “priv­i­lege”, which he claimed was in line with his le­gal ad­vice, although this was said to be su­per­flu­ous by mem­bers of the par­lia­men­tary joint com­mit­tee of cor­po­ra­tions and fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

In a doc­u­ment lodged with the com­mit­tee ear­lier this week, Mr Kum­nick said the an­swers to ques­tions on no­tice were pro­vided on the ba­sis that Mr Al­ford and Ms Atkin­son “claim priv­i­lege as to their an­swers”.

While Mr Al­ford was asked to take on no­tice how many com­pa­nies he was a di­rec­tor of, Mr Kum­nick said the an­swer could not be pro­vided.

“We have on Mr Al­ford’s in­struc­tions at­tempted to carry out elec­tronic searches of records main­tained by ASIC for Mr Al­ford. These searches could not be un­der­taken be­cause the ASIC on­line search tool re­turned the er­ror ‘Too many records found to con­tinue ex­tract’,” Mr Kum­nick said.

Mr Al­ford was also un­able to spec­ify the prof­itabil­ity from pay­ments from fran­chisees to the fran­chisor. When asked what prop­er­ties Mr Al­ford and Ms Atkin­son jointly owned through as­so­ci­ated en­ti­ties, Mr Kum­nick said to “the best of our clients’ knowl­edge there are no real prop­er­ties which are held jointly by Mr Al­ford and Ms Atkin­son in their per­sonal ca­pac­i­ties”.

Mr Al­ford was un­able to pro­duce doc­u­ments show­ing de­tails of his salary sac­ri­fice plan.

“He does not pos­sess and can­not pro­duce a copy of his em­ploy­ment agree­ment with RFG,” Mr Kum­nick said.

When asked to ex­plain re­lated party ar­range­ments with a car rac­ing scheme, Mr Kum­nick said Mr Al­ford “can­not an­swer that ques­tion from his per­sonal knowl­edge”.

The for­mer ex­ec­u­tives were forced to ap­pear be­fore the par­lia­men­tary hear­ing last month af­ter fail­ing to stall their ap­pear­ance in the High Court.

For five years, RFG al­legedly hid from its share­hold­ers an ar­range­ment in which it out­sourced the man­age­ment of 20 to 30 fran­chisees to a Gold Coast in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle, Exit 57, whose sole di­rec­tor was Ms Atkin­son.

RFG is­sued an al­most half­bil­lion dol­lar as­set write­down as a re­sult of “sig­nif­i­cant” store clo­sures and fran­chise trou­bles in fi­nan­cial 2018, the first year Mr Al­ford ceased to be an of­fice holder of RFG. The com­pany has been ac­cused by more than 700 fran­chisees of run­ning those busi­nesses into the ground with un­fair fran­chise deals.

Atkin­son

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