ASIC considers penalty appeal

THE corporate regulator is considering whether to appeal against a suspended jail sentence imposed on the Bill Express executive Peter Couper over his role in the collapse of the payments processor.
Nanjing Night Net

Judge Liz Gaynor of the Victorian County Court sentenced Couper, 58, on Friday to 21 months’ jail, wholly suspended, and fined him $10,000 for falsifying the accounts of Bill Express and lying to the company’s auditor and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Bill Express, which ran kiosks at newsagent outlets through which consumers could pay bills, promoted itself heavily by sponsoring the NRL’s Bulldogs and the AFL’s St Kilda.

But it and its parent company, OnQ, of which Couper was the chief financial officer, collapsed owing $250 million during the 2008 global financial crisis.

An ASIC spokesman said the watchdog’s lawyers were considering the sentence.

”A final decision on whether or not to appeal has not been made at this point in time,” he said.

Couper, who Judge Gaynor described as ”a weak man, out of your depth”, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of inflating Bill Express’s profit by $7.5 million in 2007 by recording a lucrative but non-existent sale of SIM cards and one count of lying to the group’s auditor by giving it the same information.

He also pleaded guilty to one count of giving misleading evidence to ASIC by denying contact with the Macquarie trader Newton Chan and the Bill Express marketing head Enzo Di Donato, who allegedly used the company’s money to prop up its share price.

Judge Gaynor said Couper acted at the behest of the company’s founders, Hal and Ian Christiansen, and praised his co-operation with Bill Express’s liquidators, PPB, in helping claw back for creditors a $1.2 million tax bill.

”Ultimately, I have decided not to jail you,” she told Couper in her sentencing remarks.

”But you have come very close indeed, Mr Couper, and you should leave this court with an acute sense of the disgraceful behaviour you have engaged in, and the fact that you will carry with you for the rest of your life a conviction in these terms against your name.”

She said Couper should be ”utterly ashamed” of himself.

”Your actions were weak and dishonest. You may have been overwhelmed by the high-powered situation you found yourself in, but you still had your own moral and ethical code, and as I have said, this you utterly abandoned. You simply collapsed under pressure.”

She said the risk of Couper re-offending was ”negligible” but the seriousness of the charges meant she needed to impose a jail term.

”Nevertheless, the considerable mitigatory factors and the particular position that you were in at the time have led me to the conclusion that a wholly suspended sentence will ultimately serve the purpose.”

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