A FORMER owner of the National Hotel who has waged a one-man battle against the Commonwealth Bank and its subsidiary Bankwest over the forced sale of his business in 2012 has won a small victory, with an Ombudsman’s report finding the receivers “arguably breached” multiple sections of Australia’s Corporations Law.
Sean Butler lost control of the National and the Lighthouse Hotel in Bunbury when Bankwest called in its loans in 2012, despite never having missed a payment and both businesses trading properly.
His case was looked at during a senate inquiry, but the background machinations were never revealed because the bank would only give its evidence in private.
He’d also slipped between the cracks of regulatory authorities until the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman agreed to look into just one aspect of the case.
Mr Butler asked the SMFEO to look into his claim that the receivers appointed by Bankwest, Taylor Woodings, unfairly blocked another offer to buy the Lighthouse Hotel and then undersold it by almost $5 million.
The businessman, who ran for One Nation after bumping into Pauline Hanson at the royal commission and went on to work for the party’s WA Senator Peter Georgiou, says the receiver’s actions cost him millions and he ended up losing the family home.
In an assessment for the Ombudsman, Perth barrister and solicitor Graham Rabe says Mr Butler’s got a strong case.
Mr Rabe says that if the case ever went to trial and Mr Butler could prove the potential buyer’s offer was genuine “then the likely finding would be that Taylor Woodings breached s. 420A [of Australia’s Corporation Law]” because it undersold the properties.
“In my opinion, the conduct of Taylor Woodings also arguably breached one or more of sub-sections 180, 181, 182 and 184 of the Corporations Law entitling Mr Butler … to damages.”
Mr Butler told the Herald this week that he was relieved to finally get a win under his belt after so many brush-offs.
He said he’d been frustrated by the royal commission because its terms of reference had omitted receivers, though thankful it had exposed the banks’ poor behaviour (he even credits the Herald’s original story on his saga, with its attention-grabbing headline “Bastardwest” as being the spark that got the commission up and running).
“I’ve sent the Ombudsman’s report to the bank – I don’t know how they can ignore that,” Mr Butler said, adding he was hoping to start mediation.
Taylor Woodings was bought out by FTI Consulting in 2013. FTI was contacted by the Herald for comment.
by STEVE GRANT