Thursday 27 October 2011

SiN Exclusive - Mr Wily and Mrs Morris

Tony Morris's bankruptcy
trustee Andrew Wily. Photo
courtesy Armstrong Wily
IN February 2011 insolvency specialist Andrew Wily travelled to an exclusive street on Sydney's northern beaches.

Wily had been appointed trustee in bankruptcy to the estate of Tony Morris after Morris had earlier failed to pay $50,000 in legal fees owed to HWL Ebsworth. 

But Tony Morris wasn't home when Wily and his senior manager Fleur Evans arrived armed with a detailed home and contents insurance policy. 

Instead he was languishing in Parklea prison, awaiting extradition to London to face charges relating to the disappearance of tens of millions of pounds from multiple British pension funds.
The money went missing in 2007 and 2008. The UK pension funds went after a firm called GP Noble Trustees and its associates.

Tony Morris was principal of Money Portal, which purchased GP Trustees in 2006. By the time the English media located him he was living in a cliff top mansion at Palm Beach with an Aston Martin in the driveway.

Civil proceedings ensued in the British chancery courts. On July 1, 2010 Justice Peter Smith of the England and Wales High Court delivered judgement in the case between the pension funds and 27 defendants including GP Trustees and Tony Morris. 

Criminal proceedings against associates of Morris followed and on April 24, 2012 Mr Morris's trial commenced in Southwark Crown Court in London. 

He pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to defraud, theft and aiding and abetting fraud and was acquitted of all charges on July 12, 2012. 

Back at the Whale Beach Road property in February last year, Wily and Evans asked Tony Morris's wife Vanessa to open the safe. The insurance policy indicated jewellery with a replacement value of $5 million was kept on the premises.

Wily and Evans took possession of the safe's contents, which included a platinum ladies ring with a seven carat diamond, diamond earrings valued at $200,000 and a range of other high end pieces from Phillip Street jeweller Troy Clancy. The trustee told SiN he regards one of the ladies rings as a void transfer under section 120 of the Bankruptcy Act. Vanessa Morris disputes this.

The $2 million man's ring lost
while Tony Morris was working on
a farm in New Zealand. 
Just as interesting was what was listed on the insurance policy but missing from the safe - a platinum and diamond man's ring with a replacement value of $2 million. Tony Morris has since said he lost the ring (pictured) while working on a farm in New Zealand.

Fast forward from February to the present. Vanessa Morris has initiated divorce proceedings in the Family Court. The jewellery is sitting in a safety deposit box in a bank awaiting sale. 

The only other significant asset Wily has available to liquidate is the Palm Beach house occupied by Mrs Morris and the Morris's two small children. Vanessa Morris has no way of paying the mortgage, currently running at $25,000 a month.

So it was that Wily and Vanessa Morris recently came together in the Federal Magistrates Court for the hearing of a hardship application designed to find a way for the penniless Mrs Morris to vacate a house she half owns when Wily sells it.

Valuations for the property mentioned in court ranged from $6.2 million to $6.5 million, a fair way shy of the $7.4 million Tony Morris paid in 2006.

What's more, the court heard that the debt owing to lender National Australia Bank is running at $5.2 million and accumulating penalty interest.

A Troy Clancy ladies ring central
to a dispute between the trustee and
Mrs Morris.
Complicating things for Wily is that Mrs Morris, who was initially bankrupted along with her husband, managed to have the order overturned, restoring her right to 50% of the north-facing, cliff-top home.

Mrs Morris has her own worries. Barrister Bridie Nolan described her leggy, glamorous client as "a single mother on a pension" and argued she should get $80,000 as an advance on her share of the property's sale, sufficient Nolan told the court to pay a year's rent in advance on a three bedroom house on the northern beaches plus cover other expenses.

Federal Magistrate Rolf Driver, who during the hearing began several commentaries on the state of the property market with the phrase: "while I'm not a real estate agent ........." ordered that on the sale of the Whale Beach Road property, Vanessa Morris receive $50,000. Wily now has only to conclude a sale agreement with an appropriate real estate agent.

The $200,000 earrings now
with the trustee.
Glenn Lee of Raine & Horne Palm Beach told SiN that he could not make any comment. David Edwards of LJ Hooker Palm Beach was the agent who sold the property to Morris.

He said he had not inspected the property or spoken to anyone with the authority to offer him a contract.

But he did say he had been responsible for selling the property each time it had changed hands over the last 20 years, getting a "record price every time", he added.

Andrew Wily and Vanessa Morris will be hoping whichever agent is engaged to sell the stunning home can replicate Andrews' success.

And meanwhile, the disputed status of that ladies ring will continue to be debated. 

Latest News (May 14, 2012):

The battle over the sale of the Morris's Palm Beach mansion

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