18 October 2023

The $4 million question: American Express problem sees Griffith winery liquidation hearing postponed again

| Oliver Jacques
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Supreme court outside

The Supreme Court hearing into Sans Pareil Estate winery never ceases to surprise. Photo: Wikipedia.

The final hearing of a Supreme Court case into the multi-million dollar collapse of a Griffith winery has produced another surprise. The matter has again been postponed and is unlikely to be heard until next year.

Sans Pareil Estate, owned by 29-year-old Aaron Salvestrin, went into liquidation in October 2022 and allegedly owes the Australian Tax Office (ATO) $32 million.

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.

READ ALSO Collapsed Griffith winery’s logos and labels on sale for offers above $50,000

Court documents list impugned transactions totalling just over $6.8 million, including a bill for $31,895.70 for luxury private jet service Navair and several overseas transactions marked “personal”.

The court case has faced several delays, but last week the liquidator’s lawyer indicated the matter would be finalised at a hearing scheduled on Tuesday (17 October).

However, the hearing itself produced another twist when the liquidator’s lawyer, Mr Martin, requested the judge postpone the matter again.

“The plaintiff’s [liquidator] evidence has not been able to be completed,” Mr Martin told the court.

He said that documents subpoenaed from credit card company American Express listing “some $4 million” worth of transactions allegedly made between December 2019 and November 2021 had not been provided.

Interior of private plane

Navair provides luxury chartered flights. Photo: Facebook.

Justice Williams was visibly annoyed at the request for a further postponement.

“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.

“It’s the plaintiff’s fault that the hearing time this afternoon has been wasted,” she said.

Mr Martin said: “I accept that, your honour, and I do apologise to the court for that wastage.”

Mr Salvestrin did not attend the hearing.

“In circumstances in which you [Mr Martin] say you’re not ready to proceed and Mr Salvestrin is not able to attend today apparently, the court is left with no choice but to adjourn [postpone] the proceedings,” Justice Williams said.

McLaren P1

Aaron Salvestrin’s McLaren P1 Supercar was signed by Daniel Ricciardo. Photo: Orange_Kieth.

The judge then set out dates in November in which court documents would need to be filed and responded to by Mr Salvestrin. She said a future hearing date would be decided on 4 December 2023.

“That may well mean that there is no hearing date until next year,” she said.

Aaron Salvestrin’s parents, Dennis and Annette, were originally also named as defendants in court documents filed in July 2023. However, the judge said Aaron is now the only active defendant remaining in the proceedings. The Supreme Court has rejected Region‘s request to access court documents filed after July, so what has transpired since then is unclear. Lawyers for both sides have also declined our request for comment.

READ ALSO Could a McLaren handle Riverina roads? Car expert answers 10 burning hypercar questions

Neither Aaron nor his parents have been charged with any crimes regarding the winery. The Supreme Court hearing is in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to property or money and is not a criminal matter.

Two previous attempts at hearings were delayed, first due to a random courtroom flood and then due to the liquidator’s lawyer not showing up to court due to a “diary administrative error”.

Aaron Salvestrin launched Sans Pareil Estate in 2018, which sold everything from bulk wine to black-label reds. Most of the physical assets of the winery have now been sold, including a McLaren P1 supercar for $1.47 million.

The company’s trademarks, logos and labels were recently advertised for an “urgent” sale, with expressions of interest of $50,000-plus from prospective buyers due on Wednesday (18 October).

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