Some of Brisbane’s most high-profile business people have been caught up  in a legal battle launched by a former employee who alleges he was a whistleblower.
Some of Brisbane’s most high-profile business people have been caught up in a legal battle launched by a former employee who alleges he was a whistleblower.

Legal battle snares big-name business identities

It's the legal battle which has attracted little attention even though it has snared some of Brisbane's best-known business identities.

Among the players in this curious saga are former airport boss Julieanne Alroe, serial company director Tony Bellas, legal eagle Brett Heading, former ERM Power chief Jon Stretch and father-and-son team Trevor and Philip St Baker.

They are respondents in a lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court earlier this year by former ERM Power executive Kent Quinlan, who claims to have paid a fearsome price for acting as a whistleblower.

Tony Bellas with Philip St Baker. Picture: Glenn Barnes
Tony Bellas with Philip St Baker. Picture: Glenn Barnes

He alleges in court documents that he was turfed out of the company after discovering a raft of corporate wrongdoing, including insider trading and bogus deals, and is now seeking an unspecified dollar figure for damages.

All of the respondents, who were key figures at ERM before its $607m acquisition by Shell late last year, are collectively defending the case.

They maintain that Quinlan accepted a standard voluntary redundancy in 2014 after six years with the company and his belated legal attack has no merit.

Quinlan alleges his departure was actually forced as a means of reprisal and that retrenchment was used as a "false pretext'' to get him out the door.

 

Trevor St Baker and Philip St Baker
Trevor St Baker and Philip St Baker

"During Mr Quinlan's employment with ERM he became aware of several sham transactions conducted by ERM which had the effect, and were apparently entered into with the purpose, of misleading the market through the production of financial statements which failed to give a true and fair view of the financial position and performance of ERM,'' his statement of claim says.

The court document, which is the size of a small phone book at more than 220 pages, also alleges "two instances of substantial insider trading by the managing director and CEO of ERM, Mr (Philip) St Baker''.

It further claims that Quinlan "was victimised by a litany of retaliatory conduct''.

Philip St Baker, who now oversees battery materials and testing firm Novonix along with Bellas, declined to address the substance of those allegations but he described Quinlan's exit as routine.

"It was a normal redundancy that was offered to him at his request and we gave him a release to go work for a company he wanted to work for. We paid him over and above his entitlements,'' he said.

Former airport boss Julieanne Alroe.
Former airport boss Julieanne Alroe.

His 81-year-old father Trevor St Baker, the Rich Lister who founded ERM in 1980 and earned $166m from its sale, was a bit more forthcoming.

"This is a 10-year saga without foundation. This was a properly managed redundancy,'' he told us in an email.

Quinlan did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday. His LinkedIn page says that he is currently "doing nothing'' and has been "taking a break'' since early 2015.

His lawyer, Leon Bertrand, said Quinlan's career opportunities had been "blighted'' by the ERM issue and he expects to prevail in the court case.

PROPERTY CLASH

A Brisbane funds manager has launched legal action this week against a property developer active in the city's northern suburbs.

Ben Godfrey's ISG Securities hopes to wind up Linzen Dakabin Pty Ltd, an arm of the Linzen Property Group founded and overseen by Susan Lindeque.

At issue is a $60 million development with 135 lots known as the Dakabin Crossing Precinct Project, which kicked off in stages starting in 2016 but has stalled recently.

Among ISG's investments is a fully-subscribed $6.6m real estate equity fund focused on the Dakabin development.

Susan Lindeque
Susan Lindeque

ISG subsidiary Lindak Investment Holdings Pty Ltd sued Linzen Dakabin last month in the Brisbane Supreme Court over a contractual dispute stemming from the project. A defence has been lodged in that matter.

Now Lindak has escalated the battle, hoping to have court-appointed liquidators seize control of Linzen Dakabin. A defence has also been filed in this dispute too.

Godfrey, who co-founded the funds business in 2014, told us that he has spent months trying to sort out the drama but it could not be resolved outside court.

"ISG's responsibility is to our investors and we take that responsibility very seriously,'' he said.

"We are focused on completing the project to ultimately achieve the best result for the community and all parties involved.

Lindeque, who first started developing property in South Africa about 25 years ago, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The legal clash comes just five months after Linzen Developments Pty Ltd shelled out $6m to buy a commercial complex at Noosa Heads.

FESTIVAL REDUX

A tantalising taste of life as we knew it before COVID-19 just might roll out in Brisbane this December.

The organisers of a Perth music festival are tentatively getting ready to set up shop for three weeks in Victoria Park with plenty of social distancing for daily crowds of up to 4000.

But how this is supposed to happen with a border shutdown remains somewhat unclear. It largely depends, of course, on whether we have a change of government next month.

Regardless, the event is part of a national tour under the banner of the Factory Summer Festival, formerly known as the Ice Cream Factory Summer Festival which has beguiled WA crowds over the past three years.

Among the dance and hip hop artists lined up are Australian chart-toppers Ruel, Illy and Vera Blue, British rapper Example, and party starters What So Not, Dirty South and Nina Las Vegas. Not that your baby-boomer diarist is familiar with any of their work!

Assuming it all goes ahead starting December 11, patrons can expect nearly a dozen themed bars, food stalls and even a zipline.

SUPER PRESSURE

Growing public concern over climate change is now putting increased pressure on super funds to go green.

A report released on Wednesday found that three of Australia's top 20 largest funds-Cbus, HESTA and UniSuper-have all committed to achieve zero net carbon emissions across their portfolios by 2050.

A fourth player, Aware Super, said it will aim for the same goal but has not locked in a specific target.

As for the rest, 12 plan to cut carbon output without being held to the 2050 goal and another four have flagged no changes.

ClimateWorks Australia boss Anna Skarbek, whose outfit backed the study, said until recently the super industry had lagged behind other sectors. But evolving expectations from both consumers and regulators have changed the dynamic.

"In 2018, superannuation funds owned almost half of Australia's shares. By 2040, experts suggest they will own 60 per cent of ASX-listed equity,'' Skarbek said.

"That means the decisions they make matter enormously to the rapid decarbonisation of the Australian economy.''

Originally published as Legal battle snares big-name business identities



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