23 April 2010

Melbourne Storm Rugby League scammers may face jail terms

MELBOURNE Storm's two most senior executives could face up to five years in jail and fines of $200,000 under companies law if, after investigation, they are charged and convicted over their actions in the club's multimillion-dollar cheating scandal.

And the club's senior players, along with their managers, may also face investigation to see whether they breached criminal provisions or taxation laws in conspiring to hide the true nature of their salary deals, according to legal experts.

Professor Ian Ramsay, director of Melbourne University's Centre for Corporate Law, said last night the revelations that dual sets of accounts were being kept by senior club executives meant ''there's a range of possibilities where this might go''.

Melbourne Storm Chairman, Rob Moodie.

Melbourne Storm chairman Rob Moodie exits NRL headquarters. 

Professor Ramsay said that, apart from the likely reputational and financial damage to the club with its members and sponsors, there were potential breaches of both the Corporations Act and certain criminal laws.

He said that the first area of concern was whether directors or officers of Storm met the legal requirements to act in the interests of the company and for a proper purpose.

He said the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which polices the law, also focused on whether financial records prepared by companies are accurate.

Matt Hanson leaving NRL headquarters.

Chief executive Matt Hanson. 

Deliberately falsified documents and accounts trigger potential breaches of the Crimes Act.

The NRL's statement yesterday said that their investigations had revealed Melbourne was running two sets of accounts, in respect of player payment contracts, with a secret file detailing extra payments ''kept at the home of the chief executive''.

The club yesterday stood down acting chief executive, and former chief financial officer, Matthew Hanson, and named as the scheme's architect his predecessor, Brian Waldron, who left in mid-January.

The NRL said that neither Storm's chairman - well-known Melbourne figure Dr Rob Moodie - and his fellow directors, nor the club's owner - Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd - were aware of the two sets of accounts until the league's audit.

A taxation law expert said under-the-table payments always sent red-flag alerts to regulatory bodies and the Storm's admission would certainly register on the radar of the Taxation Office and ASIC.

''What you will often find on issues like salary cap breaches is that it opens the side gate for the regulatory bodies to have a look at what is happening,'' he said.

''ASIC could well look into it to see if there is any breach of corporation law while the Tax Office could also show some interest,'' the source said.

A spokeswoman for ASIC said the commission could not comment on operational matters while the Tax Office was of the same opinion.

Victoria Police said it was not ruling out an investigation but said last night that it had not received an official complaint on the matter.

News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan said yesterday the matters would be referred to police.

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