Waratah debtors disputing invoices

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Some major debtors at Waratah Group are disputing the size of invoices issued by the now defunct print company, but the liquidator says they are all bona fida and is now looking at court action to get all the money back.

Former owners: Steve Kernahan (left) and Breet Chalmers among the five owners of Waratah Group
Former owners: Steve Kernahan (left) and Brett Chalmers among the five owners of Waratah Group

Chief among the contested invoices is $1.3m owed by the Spotlight Group. Among the others Australia Post is disputing 600 invoices totalling $138,000, while St Vincents Hospital is disputing a number of invoices in its $198,000 account.

According to the liquidator, the tangled company went down with outstanding invoices of $4.5m. But, its debts were $22.1m, including $4.5m in staff wages, super, and entitlements. Secured creditors are owed $3.7m. Most of the staff money has now been paid through the government's Fair Entitlements Guarantee scheme (Fegs).

Spotlight – which includes the Spotlight and Anaconda stores – is holding out against paying its invoices, claiming Waratah owes it a similar amount to the $1.3m it has been invoiced for. However, Waratah liquidator Shane Deane says those monies were owed by companies outside the Waratah Group. He is now preparing legal action. Deane said, "Our legal advice is that we are on the right side."

Australia Post is reported as saying it can find no record of the $138,000 worth of invoices, although the liquidator says the amounts are consistent with prior periods. St Vincents claims it has not received more than half the invoices the liquidator says it has and says some are for work it has no knowledge of.

Waratah owes money to a who's-who of major Melbourne trade houses, including Marvel Bookbinding, TLC, and Precision Forme Cutting. Paper merchants Spicers, Direct Paper, and Ball & Doggett are also on the creditors list. None are likely to see much of a return, if any at all. Liquidator Deane told Print21, "With the $4.5m owed to the government for Fegs, and then the secured creditors next in line, we have a fairly high bar to reach, and that is before any unsecured creditors."

Most of the print machinery at Waratah was owned by a separate company, MW Assets, which is also in receivership, and also has a line of secured creditors waiting for any funds raised. The Waratah Group liquidator has no access to any of these funds.

The five Waratah co-owners – brothers Moody and Abbi Aboughattas, former Mercedes Waratah COO Brett Chalmers, who was CEO of Waratah, and former AFL legends Steve Kernahan and Craig Bradley – were the original owners of the former Docklands Press. Following a falling out with Michael Wu, with whose Ability Press they had joined forces to create Docklands Ability Group, they took 100 per cent ownership, and rebranded the company as Waratah Group. It went down in November last year.


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