26 March 2024

No medical evidence Salvestrin was in mental health ward during Supreme Court hearings, judge says

| Oliver Jacques
Start the conversation
man at winery

Aaron Salvestrin says he was admitted to a mental health ward in February. Photo: LinkedIn.

A Supreme Court judge says Griffith winemaker Aaron Salvestrin did not provide evidence to support his claims he was in a mental health ward while Supreme Court hearings were being held on the controversial collapse of his company.

Mr Salvestrin’s winery Sans Pareil Estate went into liquidation in October 2022 and was alleged to have received up to $17 million from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) from “fraudulent” GST refund claims.

The liquidator, Gavin Moss, launched Supreme Court proceedings to recover money from Mr Salvestrin in July 2023.

READ ALSO Griffith business ‘fraudulently’ claimed to have bought $200 million worth of wine to get GST refunds, ATO alleges

On 15 March, 2024, Justice Anthony McGrath ruled that the Griffith man had made “unreasonable director-related transactions” and ordered him to pay back $8.4 million to creditors.

In his published decision, the judge noted an email Mr Salvestrin sent to a liquidator lawyer on Sunday, 4 February, 2024.

“I would also like to add that I have been administered to a mental health warden from the 1st of February for eight weeks. The first two weeks I am unable to have access to any telecommunication (exempt on weekends),” he wrote.

The judge stated: “Mr Salvestrin has not provided any medical evidence to support [these] assertions … or any further details about them.”

In making his decision in favour of the liquidator, Justice McGrath noted Mr Salvestrin did not attend court hearings in February and March and did not respond to the liquidator’s evidence against him.

This Supreme Court case was in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it related to property or money and was not a criminal matter.

Mr Salvestrin has not been charged with any crimes related to his company’s liquidation.

Under NSW law, a person charged with an offence who is suffering from a mental health impairment can apply to have themselves diverted away from the criminal justice system and into a treatment support program.

To be considered for a diversion, a defendant is generally required to provide evidence of their mental illness, such as through a medical report from a psychiatrist or psychologist.

In the civil court case, Justice McGrath stated there were “vast amounts of evidence” that Mr Salvestrin made transactions that were of “personal” benefit to him, using funds the winery received from the ATO due to “fictitious transactions”.

“Personal expenses [were made] on items such as supermarket products, food, alcohol, entertainment, motor vehicles, accommodation, travel, gifts, social media, health care and credit cards,” he wrote in his decision.

The judge said the onus was on Mr Salvestrin to explain each of his purchases and that he did not do so, having failed to take part in the hearings.

In the email Mr Salvestrin sent to the liquidator’s lawyer, he did dispute alleged purchases made to the website OnlyFans, saying the transactions were due to “fraudulent activities, promptly identified and rectified”.

In a report to creditors, liquidator Gavin Moss stated the company director did not assist with the liquidation process after October 2022 and that he had been “uncontactable due to health reasons”.

Mr Moss was nevertheless able to continue the liquidation and has now sold almost all the winery assets.

Most recently, the liquidator sold a five-bedroom house at 39 Brooks Street, Collina, for an undisclosed price on 19 March. This property had previously been purchased by a company operating under the Sans Pareil umbrella for $711,000 in February 2022. It was next door to where Mr Salvestrin himself lived.

A house

This property at 39 Brooks Street in Collina was the subject of a Supreme Court ruling in the Salvestrin case. Photo: realestate.com.au.

The Australian Federal Police and ATO have both declined to comment on whether there is to be any further investigation of, or action taken on, the liquidation of Sans Pareil Estate.

More generally, the ATO appears to have ramped up its activity to pursue companies with unpaid tax debts. In the last six months of 2023, it began 550 wind-up applications against businesses in the Federal Court, which is more than the total number of federal wind-ups it undertook in the entire 2022-23 financial year.

Region has reported that two other unrelated Griffith businesses have recently been wound up in insolvency following ATO-initiated court action: transport company Griffith Fast Freight and the former owner of eatery Zambrero Griffith. The Mexican fast-food outlet was later taken over by another franchisee and remains open.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.