Expat New Zealand businessman Neville Crichton’s company Ateco Group has taken control of Fiat Chrysler NZ following accusations that Crichton’s former business partner Clyde Campbell misused more than $A30 million of Fiat Chrysler money to fund a lavish lifestyle for family and business associates.
A lawsuit filed in Federal Court claims Campbell (above left) misappropriated the money while he was managing director of subsidiary company Fiat Chrysler Australia (FCA) between 2010-2013. Campbell left FCA in 2013 to set up Fiat Chrysler NZ with Crichton (above right). Both men each had 50 per cent of the NZ operation.
A spokesman for Crichton’s Ateco Group said Campbell no longer had any association with Fiat Chrysler NZ and that the distributor was now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ateco Group.
“As soon as the company became aware of the accusations against Mr Campbell the relationship was terminated in a mutually agreed settlement. Following the changes in ownership it is business as normal at Fiat Chrysler NZ.
“Neither Ateco nor Fiat Chrysler NZ can comment on the accusations against Mr Campbell as it (sic) is set to appear before the courts and the accusations do not involve these companies.”
Fiat Chrysler HQ in America alleges Campbell spent the money with businesses controlled or owned by himself, is wife Simone, or associates. It also claims Campbell provided free cars and fuel cards for celebrities – including media darlings Shane Warne and Liz Hurley and Australian sports stars – in breach of company rules.
Three cars earmarked as prizes or donations to charitable and sporting bodies in Australia were also allegedly re-directed to Campbell associates, the writ claims.
The lawsuit alleges corporate funds were directly or indirectly used to pay for a $NZ420,000 yacht, an aeroplane, trips to North and South America, a golf holiday in NZ, luxury villas and racing club memberships, and NZ$400,000 in gift vouchers.
The main thrust of the writ is that Campbell early in his tenure hired Melbourne company Motortrak, in which Fiat Chrysler alleges Campbell had and “still has, or appears to have” a senior role, to provide “web services” at $A690 a month to each of FCA’s 59 dealerships.
It claims that later Campbell authorised the contract be renewed and increased to $A4100 a month for each of FCA’s now 184 dealers. Fiat Chrysler alleges more than $A20 million was paid to Motortrak, a sum “substantially greater than the cost of similar web services provided by Motortrak itself and by competitiors.”
Fiat Chrysler is seeking compensation and a declaration by the court that Campbell had breached his fiduciary duties, acted in bad faith and improperly used his position.
Campbell’s high-profile Melbourne lawyer Sam Bond said Campbell’s position was that “the allegations in the statement of claim are not only completely denied but considered scandalous.”
Fiat Chrysler also claims that former Australian CEO Veronica Johns used company money to help fund renovations to her family home in Melbourne.
Ms Johns became the first female CEO of an automotive company in Australia when she took over from Campbell in May 2013. She unexpectedly quit her job 18 months later, on October 28, 2014, citing “personal reasons”. She had worked for Chrysler for 16 years.
Fiat Chrysler alleges that Ms Johns emailed the head of the construction company that had done the renovations asking him to invoice Fiat Chrysler for the work.
The construction company, Madok Group, was headed by Mitchell Knight, who was a partner in another company with Ms Johns’ husband Gregory Hede. The company was called Domato Pty Ltd.
Fiat Chrysler claims that three cars it paid for to be used as prizes for charity auctions ended up registered to Domato Pty Ltd.
The writ claims Knight sold one of the vehicles back to a Chrysler Jeep dealership in Melbourne for $A20,000 more than it was worth.
It is alleged Ms Johns, then the sales director of Fiat Chrysler, agreed for the car company to provide the extra $A20,000 of the repurchase price. Just months later, in May 2014, Ms Johns was appointed CEO of the company.