A Supreme Court case into the multi-million-dollar collapse of a Griffith winery won’t be resolved until next year, after the court was told of a problem obtaining evidence from credit card company American Express on more than $4 million worth of transactions.
This resulted in the next hearing on the matter being delayed and scheduled for 5 February, 2024.
Sans Pareil Estate, owned by 29-year-old Hanwood farmer Aaron Salvestrin, went into liquidation in October 2022, allegedly owing the Australian Tax Office (ATO) $32m.
The liquidator, insolvency firm Chifley Advisory, launched Supreme Court proceedings to recover money from Mr Salvestrin, alleging he caused the winery to make several “impugned voidable transactions” after receiving GST refunds to which Sans Pareil Estate wasn’t entitled.
This matter was scheduled for a final hearing on 17 October, 2023, but on that occasion, the liquidator’s lawyer requested a postponement.
The lawyer, a Mr Martin, told the court that documents subpoenaed from American Express listing “some $4 million” worth of transactions allegedly made between December 2019 and November 2021 had not been provided.
At a hearing on Monday (4 December), the liquidator was this time represented by Paul Hunt, who told the court his firm was still waiting on documents from American Express.
“The status is that American Express have been subpoenaed and have requested further time,” he said. “That subpoena has been adjourned until 14 December. We still need access to that information to finalise the evidence, which will take us into the new year.”
Once again, Mr Salvestrin did not appear at the hearing, nor did a lawyer representing him.
“I’m not expecting any appearance from the defendant [Aaron Salvestrin],” Mr Hunt told the court.
These Supreme Court proceedings are in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to property or money and is not a criminal matter.
Mr Salvestrin has not been charged with any offences regarding this matter.
Judge Ashley Black extended the time that Mr Hunt could file evidence (including the American Express documents), until 19 January, 2024. This would give Mr Salvestrin two weeks to respond to the evidence, before the next hearing set for 5 February, 2024.
Court documents list four transactions made by the winery to American Express between 2018 and 2022 for the amounts of $4,206,228, $260,000, $108,199 and $67,133.
Several other transactions are also listed in court documents, including $18,000 for a “personal universal home theatre” and $31,895 for luxury private jet service Navair.
As Region previously reported, several luxury cars were bought in the name of the winery, including a rare McLaren P1 supercar signed by Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo, which was sold by the liquidator for $1.47 million.
The trademarks, logos and labels of Sans Pareil Estate were advertised for sale in October 2023, with a brokerage firm seeking expressions of interest of $50,000-plus.
At Monday’s court hearing, Mr Hunt informed the court that Mr Salvestrin had still not filed a defence to the original liquidator lawyer’s “points of claim” document submitted in July 2023, which is a summary of the case against him.
In the earlier 17 October Supreme Court hearing on this matter, Justice Kate Williams said the liquidator’s legal representatives were responsible for the case being delayed at that time.
“The American Express material was not absent,” she said.
“It was produced and your solicitor did nothing to inspect it until 9 October. This delay and the delay in your solicitor discovering the problem that he now says there are documents that haven’t been produced is entirely due to the fact that nobody from the plaintiff inspected the documents promptly after 28 August.”
At Monday’s hearing, Justice Black did not criticise either party for the further delay.
Mr Salvestrin was just 24 years old when he launched Sans Pareil Estate, named after a French term meaning “without equal”. The company sold everything from bulk wine to black-label reds and received positive reviews for its flagship product – a 2018 shiraz named Monumental.
In February 2022, Destination NSW, the State Government’s lead tourism agency, praised Mr Salvestrin’s “rule-breaking wine” and “untraditional methods”.
Nine companies associated with the winery were registered between March 2018 and March 2022; all are now in liquidation.
The liquidator’s lawyer has pursued separate Supreme Court proceedings against Salvestrin Enterprises Pty Ltd, one of those nine companies.
This matter was finalised at a hearing on 9 November, 2023, when the court ruled in the liquidator’s favour, paving the way for a house worth more than $700,000, in the Griffith suburb of Collina, to be sold as part of the winery liquidation.