Askin sank Tollgate

OWN CORRESPONDENT, Johannesburg | Thursday 9.30am.

THE five-year Browde Commission of inquiry into the 1992 collapse of the Tollgate group of companies fingers former Tollgate chairman Julian Askin for playing a major role in bringing the group to its knees.

The report, released on Wednesday, says the main cause of the “Tollgate debacle” was the dishonesty of senior management and the fact that “certain leading figures in the group showed a complete lack of appreciation of the basic legal principles governing the management of companies,” senior counsel Jules Browde said. “The details of Askin’s use of company money makes sordid reading,” he added.

Citing testimony by former Tollgate director Bill McAdam, Browde said Askin’s abuse of funds included using money to buy antique furniture, paying for a grouse shoot in Devon for friends, and maintaining his private helicopter in the United Kingdom. During the year 1991/92 McAdam was chairman, not a single Tollgate board meeting was held, Browde said.

The report recommends that Askin be immediately extradited from London to face charges of fraud in South Africa. A strong prima facie case of fraud against director Lawrie Mackintosh could also be pursued, the report recommends.

The report further exonerates Absa Bank, a major Tollgate creditor owed more than R200-million, of any negligence or wrongdoing in monitoring the group’s finances in the months before its demise. In playing a monitoring role, Absa did not assume any of the responsibility of the directors of the company and was not involved in running the business, the report found.

Browde said, for a number of stated reasons, he did not investigate the role of the Reserve Bank’s lifeboat to Absa in the liquidation. To date the liquidators have recovered more than R15-million and there are good prospects of recovering an additional R29,3-million.

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