A Supreme Court hearing into the multi-million-dollar collapse of a Griffith winery has seen the defence lawyer apply to cease representing the winery’s owner.
As exclusively reported by Region, Hanwood farmer Aaron Salvestrin’s company, Sans Pareil Estate, went into administration in October 2022 and allegedly owes the Australian Tax Office (ATO) more than $32 million.
While no criminal charges have been laid against the wine company owner, on Monday (25 September), the NSW Supreme Court heard an application from the liquidator, insolvency firm Chifley Advisory, to recover money from the winery.
Mr Salvestrin’s lawyer, Ben Horne of Sydney firm Aqua Law, began the hearing by telling the court: “I seek leave today with a motion of ceasing to act with respect of [Aaron Salvestrin].
“My client has failed to comply with Your Honour’s orders, and additionally, there are financial reasons which mean that we can no longer continue to act towards the defendant.”
The lawyer representing Chifley Advisory, Paul Hunt of Hunts Law, did not attend the court hearing.
“I’ve sent a text to him [Paul Hunt] this morning inquiring as to whether Mr Hunt or a representative would be here. I had expected to see him here but I have had no response,” Mr Horne said.
Justice Ashley Black denied Mr Horne’s motion as he had not given the required seven days’ notice to his client, Aaron Salvestrin.
The judge told Mr Horne he could now give notice of his intention to cease to act for Mr Salvestrin and that the hearing would be rescheduled for 9 October 2023, “with a view to dismissing the proceedings for want of prosecution if there is no appearance by the plaintiff’s [the liquidator’s] legal representatives [Hunts Law] on that occasion”.
Region contacted Mr Horne to find out why he wanted to cease defending the winery owner.
“As matters are before the court, it would be inappropriate for me to comment,” he said.
Mr Hunt was contacted to ascertain why he did not appear at today’s hearing on behalf of the liquidator, but he did not respond before publication.
Monday’s Supreme Court civil hearing was originally scheduled for 18 September but was delayed due to a “major flooding event” at the Sydney courtroom.
The liquidation of Sans Pareil Estate began in October 2022 when Chifley Advisory started selling assets owned by the winery.
Region’s ongoing investigation revealed that an imported McLaren P1 supercar signed by Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo was sold for $1.47 million as part of the liquidation, considerably less than what Mr Salvestrin is understood to have paid for the luxury sports car.
According to court documents, the ATO claims Sans Pareil Estate lodged fake business activity statements (BAS) to the ATO and made “inflated and fictitious claims” for GST refunds in respect of GST payments, which it never made between July 2020 and September 2022.
A BAS is a form registered businesses must submit to the ATO reporting their tax obligations. When lodging a BAS, companies can claim a refund on GST for goods purchased for export overseas because the 10 per cent tax only applies to items consumed within Australia.
Sans Pareil Estate allegedly received GST refund payments of $17,161,679 more than it should have.
As of February 2023, the winery was alleged to owe the ATO $32,604,461, which included penalties and interest.
Mr Salvestrin has not been charged with any offences relating to the alleged GST refunds. The ongoing Supreme Court case is in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to money or property and is not a criminal matter.
The Hanwood farmer was just 24 years old when he launched Sans Pareil Estate, 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.