Liquidator investigates whether 1st Fleet traded while insolvent

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

THE failed trucking company 1st Fleet owed about $100 million when it collapsed and possibly 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," Antony de Vries, a partner at the liquidator de Vries Tayeh, said.

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

But superannuation 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 money. "We've got a debtors' ledger of around about $5 million that 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.

"It's sad, some of the customers of 1st Fleet are taking advantage of the liquidation and not paying their accounts. That leaves us in the position that 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 after 1st Fleet's collapse. Mr De Vries confirmed 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. 1st Fleet had about 1000 employees - 600 permanent and 400 sub-contractors - when it entered administration on May 22. Its revenue for the previous year was about $133 million.

At the time of its collapse, the 1st Fleet sole director Stephen Brown blamed the French financier Coface for pulling its funding, and went overseas.

He is now back in Australia and is co-operating with the liquidator, Mr de Vries said.