1st Fleet in $100m debt before crash

FAILED trucking company 1st Fleet owed about $100 million when it collapsed and likely traded while insolvent, its liquidator says.

FAILED trucking company 1st Fleet owed about $100 million when it collapsed and likely traded while insolvent, its liquidator says.

"We had our initial suspicions [about trading while insolvent] and we think they have been confirmed, but we continue to do deeper investigations," said Antony de Vries, partner at liquidator deVriesTayeh.

Mr de Vries said that $8 million in employee entitlements wages, redundancies and holiday pay entitlements had been paid through the federal government's GEERS program, which makes payments to employees of collapsed companies.

But super payments were in a "state of flux", he said, in part because of $5 million owed by debtors to 1st Fleet. His firm is considering legal action to recoup that.

"We've got a debtors' ledger of about $5 million we're looking to collect, and along with the asset sales and some litigation, we should be able to get some money towards the superannuation," he said. "Some of the customers of 1st Fleet are taking advantage of the liquidation and not paying their accounts . . . We will have to, if we can't negotiate with these people, take these people to court and then have full collection procedures. That means lawyers get paid lots of money, so it's a little unjust."

Asset sales have brought in about $3 million. The Transport Workers Union has complained that truckies who entered into lease-to-buy contracts for trucks have been left in the cold. Mr de Vries said discussions were taking place on "one of the most controversial practices undertaken by 1st Fleet's management".

The comments follow a third creditors' meeting last week, in which creditors agreed to pool the assets and liabilities of 1st Fleet and its six related entities into one vehicle. The company had about 1000 employees 600 permanent and 400 sub-contractors when it entered administration on May 22. Its 2011 revenue was about $133 million.

At the time of its collapse, 1st Fleet's sole director Stephen Brown blamed French financier Coface for pulling its funding and went overseas. He is now back in Australia and co-operating with deVries Tayeh, Mr de Vries said.

Mr de Vries said there was a handful of reasons for 1st Fleet's collapse. "It was structured poorly. If the business was on a sound footing, it would have found other banks to take over."

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