AMA Group claims uncovered further allegations of financial misconduct by some members of senior management, including “dummying up invoices to cover their tracks”, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review (AFR). The allegations, which follow AMA’s investigation into the conduct of former CEO Andy Hopkins, are denied by the executives who say they were entitled to the payments which were approved by the company.
According to the AFR, former Chief Financial Officer of AMA’s Panel Division, Stephen Harding-Smith, has commenced Federal Circuit Court action separate to the AMA/Hopkins dispute.
After raising concerns in January that he was being subject to allegations by AMA and attempting to seek details of them by letter, Harding-Smith claims he was wrongly dismissed a month later. He said he had “not been provided with the opportunity to participate in any investigation” and that AMA didn’t respond to his letter of request, the AFR wrote.
The AFR said AMA admits it did not answer back “in open written correspondence” to Harding-Smith’s claim but denies not responding. In a defence and counterclaim, the AMA alleges Harding-Smith was dismissed for “serious misconduct”, facilitating the “unauthorised purchase of three luxury motor vehicles” worth $256,000 for Hopkins and his family using AMA funds.
According to the AFR, AMA alleges invoices had been “amended on Harding-Smith’s instructions to be paid by AMA rather than Hopkins”. Hopkins said payment for cars “was approved on many levels” and Harding-Smith “was approved to make these payments by the then board”.
The AFR said Harding-Smith is seeking compensation and forgiveness on a company loan. AMA denies it wrongly dismissed Harding-Smith and claims $68,000 remains owed under the loan.
According to the AFR, the AMA also alleges improper payments to former Chief Commercial Officer Peter Bubeck, saying: “Harding-Smith had authorised a payment in November 2017 of $40,157 to Bubeck Holdings as rent when [Harding-Smith] knew that no rent was owing.” The report says AMA’s counterclaim also alleges payment of $99,000 to Bubeck Holdings in September 2019 was made for “warehouse stock, incl prepa pays [sic] and IRT lamps”, but Harding-Smith knew no warehouse stock had been provided and the payment was to satisfy a claim for additional remuneration from Bubeck.
The AFR said Bubeck, who is not a party to any proceedings, rejected the claims, saying: “All entitled payments to myself were negotiated in good faith and approved prior to any payment taking place”.
Hopkins said he was unaware of wrongdoing but claimed the current board had overseen a massive departure of executives and management. The AFR quoted Hopkins as saying: “It took me 12 years to build AMA into a billion-dollar company and it’s taken these guys 12 weeks to destroy it. “If I’m guilty of anything, it’s building a great business with great people.”