15 March 2024

Supreme Court orders Griffith winemaker to pay $8.4 million in final judgement

| Oliver Jacques
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Aaron Salvestrin at a wine show

Aaron Salvestrin launched Sans Pareil Estate when he was just 23-years-old. Photo: Facebook.

The NSW Supreme Court has ordered Griffith winemaker Aaron Salvestrin to pay back just over $8.4 million to creditors, after ruling he made “unreasonable director-related transactions” while running his company Sans Pareil Estate.

The Hanwood-based wine business, launched by a 23-year-old Mr Salvestrin in 2018, went into liquidation four years later due to alleged debts to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) of $32 million.

Nine different companies associated with the winery were registered by Mr Salvestrin – all of which were placed under the control of the liquidator, Gavin Moss of insolvency firm Chifley Advisory.

In 2023, Mr Moss launched Supreme Court proceedings to recover money from Mr Salvestrin, alleging the company director made several “personal” transactions that did not benefit the business and therefore breached corporation law.

READ ALSO Griffith winemaker says OnlyFans transactions were ‘fraudulent’, court documents reveal

The liquidator presented evidence from the ATO alleging the winery created fake Business Activity Statements (BAS) to claim just over $17 million worth of GST refunds to which it was not entitled.

Further evidence allegedly showed money from winery bank accounts coming in from the ATO and then being transferred onto American Express credit cards in Mr Salvestrin’s name – which made over $6.3 million worth of transactions.

Documents subpoenaed from American Express allegedly showed transactions that did not appear to be related to a wine business – such as for a PlayStation, a universal home theatre system and purchases for the online subscription service OnlyFans.

The final judgement handed down today (15 March) by Justice Anthony McGrath was overwhelmingly in favour of the liquidator and against Mr Salvestrin.

“Each of the transactions summarised … is an unreasonable director-related transaction [and voidable],” he ruled

He ordered that Mr Salvestrin would have to pay back $7,727,177.07 to Sans Pareil Estate Pty Ltd, the main company in the wine business.

He also ordered amounts of $116,421.38, $412.70 and $613,191.94 be paid back to three other companies registered under the Sans Pareil umbrella.

In total, Mr Salvestrin must pay back just over $8.4 million.

Each of these companies is now under the control of the liquidator, so any money recovered goes towards creditors or liquidator costs.

McLaren P1 supercar with doors open

A McLaren P1 supercar was sold for $1.47 million as part of the liquidation of the Griffith winery. Photo: Road and Track.

The judge also ruled that Mr Salvestrin would have to pay the liquidator’s costs of the Supreme Court proceedings, which have lasted several months.

The liquidator’s lawyers stated that the Griffith man did not provide any explanation or justification for his expenses. He did not attend any court hearings.

At one point, he was represented in proceedings by Sydney lawyer Ben Horne, who stopped doing so in September 2023 citing “financial reasons”.

Region has attempted to contact Mr Salvestrin but has been unable to do so.

Court documents obtained by Region revealed the 29-year-old sent an email to liquidator lawyer Paul Hunt on 4 February 2024, which provides the only insight into his views on the court proceedings.

In it, he said the alleged OnlyFans transactions were the result of fraudulent activity and that he had been admitted to a mental health ward on 1 February for eight weeks.

In a text message to Mr Hunt, he also said he missed a court appearance in November 2023 due to “charity work”.

Region’s exclusive ongoing investigation into the winery revealed several luxury vehicles owned by Sans Pareil Estate were sold by the liquidator, including a 2014 McLaren P1 Supercar, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE53 and a 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG. The McLaren was signed by Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo and sold at auction for $1.47 million.

READ ALSO Application to wind up Griffith winery Warburn in insolvency dismissed in Victorian Supreme Court

As at December 2023, around $2 million has been recovered by the liquidator, while Chifley Advisory’s total costs and expenses for undertaking the liquidation were around $1.5 million.

Mr Salvestrin was just 23 when he launched Sans Pareil, a French term meaning “without equal”.

“I grew up on a vineyard and ever since I can remember, I was fascinated by the wine industry,” he told the local Griffith paper in 2020.

“I helped out with harvest from a young age and got a job as a vineyard hand at McWilliam’s [winery] when I was 18.”

Destination NSW, the state government’s lead tourism agency, praised his “rule-breaking wine” and “untraditional methods” in February 2022.

This Supreme Court case against Mr Salvestrin 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 this matter.

The Australian Federal Police declined Region‘s request to comment on whether it was investigating this liquidation.

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