Creditors told no law required auction trust accounts before Mossgreen administration

Creditors told no law required auction trust accounts before Mossgreen administration
Creditors told no law required auction trust accounts before Mossgreen administration

The creditors who attended the first Mossgreen creditors' meeting last week have been advised no law required trust accounts for the auction proceeds.

The auction house Mossgreen fell into voluntary external administration last month, and its creditors anxiously await a rescue package with the promised full repayment from its founder, Paul Sumner.

Sumner told media outlets - ahead of the 1.30 hour meeting which he did not attend - that no creditor would be out of pocket. 

Inside the meeting there was a sense of forbode.

"Looking at the present figures, it appears that the best case scenario for creditors is no return," one of the despondent 330 creditors represented at the meeting suggested.

Sumner, the son of art and antique dealers, said the administration was due to debts following the company's rapid expansion and the withdrawal of its key investor, Jack Gringlas, who is the major secured creditor.

In July last year, Sumner and his wife, Amanda Swanson bought back Gringlas' share of the business.

"Since then, we've been advised to take the [voluntary administration] course, as the best way to clear historical debt – associated with previous investors – out of the business, and restructure the company and move forward," Mr Sumner told his local paper, The Age.

"Not one vendor or one buyer will lose one dollar in this process," he said.

"Mossgreen is a business that relies on trust, so when you do something like this, your reputation will be affected, by how you deal with your vendors and buyers."

“It is the best was to clear historical debt, accrued through previous investors,” Sumner also told the rival Herald Sun.

He even told the Sydney Morning Herald Private Sydney gossip columnist Andrew Hornery: "I want to assure every vendor that they will get their money ... every cent of it."

Mossgreen, known for its Armadale tea rooms at 926-930 High Street, and single-owner house content sales, owes $5.8 million to auction clients, plus $6 million to the former part-owner, Jack Gringlas with interest being charged at $40,000 a month.

The first creditors' meeting was told the assets were $1.6 million cash in the bank along with $1.2 million owed by auction lot buyers, who have a legal binding contract that can not be terminated by the administrators.

The staff are owed possibly around $1 million. The company's superannuation and tax obligations were indicated as "relatively" up to date.

College Capital came forward at the creditors' meeting asking to be noted as a secured creditor. The secured Westpac amount was a $12,000 credit card facility.

The biggest unsecured creditor stemmed from the auction of a book collection.

Some $1.75 million is owed to the family of the late wealthy insurance underwriter Martin Copley who auctioned off the books in October.

The first question at the creditors' meeting asked on the status of any auction sale proceeds.

The meeting chairman advised "that the company was not required by law to operate a trust account."

The administrators were exploring whether a constructive trust arrangement existed.

It was likely they would approach the courts to rule on the matter.

This course was challenged by Minter Ellison lawyer Lindsay Powers, on behalf of art collector Michele Asprey, who suggested "this was the clearest case of a trust relationship he has encountered." 

The chairman advised that initial legal advice had been obtained and it was considered necessary to obtain directions from the court "due to the various classes of creditors, the estimated shortfall to creditors and the overall complexity of the matter."

The chairman, James White from BDO, indicated his personal view was that unsold goods held on consignment remained the property of the vendors. 

The chairman indicated the administrators were not planning to hold any auctions. The Queen Street, Woollahra premises were to be vacated. It was the intention of the administrators to advertise the business for sale/retructure. Unsold consignment items will be available for collection from January 15 in an orderly way.

In August The Australian Financial Review reported Mossgreen was shedding more than a dozen staff, adding Sumner advised it is business as usual at the Melbourne-based auction house, "which continues to line up sales at a frenetic pace."

Sumner said the staff restructure reflected the firm's increasing focus on single-owner collections and higher value lots following its expansion in recent years - including the merger with the Charles Leski stamp auction group in 2013 and the takeover of New Zealand's Webb's in 2016.

"We've probably grown a little bit fast considering that the market plateaued," Sumner told the mainstream media late December after the news emerged pre-Christmas on Property Observer of the administrators being called in.

"I'll be the first to say that that's the case," he advised.

"What we're doing now is the opposite. We're restructuring, taking out some of the costs of our business, so that we are a much leaner, healthier business starting from the first of February." 

The media also reported Sumner said Mossgreen did not plan to close any outlets.

The creditors' meeting chairman noted the current situation was that "the company had a high cost base with substantial rent costs, a large number of employees and was funding the losses of the New Zealand business."

The NZ business was indebted to the company for inexcess of $1 million.

"Auction monies were essentially used to fund the working capital and trading losses of the business," the creditors were told by the chairman as he closed the meeting.

Asked by a creditor on the 100% repayment advisory from Sumner, the chairman replied: "This was the view of Mr Sumner and did not reflect the administrators' position."

Creditors departed, concerned that the limited known available proceeds will be reduced by administration fees and court costs.




Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

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