Former high-flying accountant, Steven Hart, and the managing director of his failed accountancy ‘aggregator’ firm Harts Australasia faced charges in a Brisbane court last week for breaching continuous disclosure rules.

Hart, who was deputy executive chair of Harts and is already serving a seven-year jail sentence for fraud, reserved his plea while Richard Hayter, former Harts managing director, pleaded not guilty to the charge of withholding knowledge of the company’s unexpected loss of $9.7 million in 2001. Harts listed in May 2000 at the peak of the accountancy ‘aggregator’ craze forecasting an after-tax profit of $12.381 million in its first year of operation. In January 2001, however, the market learned that Harts expected to book a $9.7 million loss in the six months to December 2001. ASIC alleged Hart and Hayter failed to advise the market of the company’s true financial state when it was known and breached continuous disclosure regulations under Corporations Law and ASX listing rules. Steven Hart’s seven-year jail sentence for fraud relating to a 1990-91 tax minimisation scheme was confirmed last May when his appeal against the original sentence handed down in 2004 was dismissed. However, Hart was successful in appealing an earlier four-year sentence for tax fraud. Harts Australasia, which based its business model on buying up small accountancy firms and bundling them up into a broad financial services business, was placed into liquidation in October 2001 with a reported shortfall of $60.8 million and was hounded by thousands of angry investors. While the liquidators did not hold out much hope of retrieving money for investors the government recorded a small victory against Hart, a noted aircraft enthusiast, this April when it recovered some of his assets valued at $8 million following a joint operation between the Australian Federal Police and the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia (ITSA). According to the Justice and Customs Ministry, the seizure of Hart’s assets included 11 historic military aircraft including a Hawker Sea Fury and a Dehavalind Tiger Moth, four aircraft hangars, a Mercedes Benz motor vehicle, and a number of residential and rural properties. “The hangars, and 10 of the aircraft, were seized at Archerfield Airport, with two residences seized at Sunnybank, along with a rural property in Grandchester, and another aircraft located at Cessnock in NSW,” a Justice and Customs Ministry statement said.

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