Green Acres fraud triggers Kiwi franchise review?

August 19, 2008

This is an interesting article by Nevil Gibson in The National Business Review: Franchisers face prospect of regulation.

Nevil Gibson starts of with:

The Green Acres franchising scam, in which dozens of new migrants from China and India were bilked of millions of dollars, has sparked a government clampdown on the sector.

Commerce Minister Dalziel [picture] is quoted as saying:

“I was actively involved in meeting with franchisees at the beginning of the year who had been caught up in what is an alleged fraud and still subject to investigation by the relevant authorities including the Franchise Association of New Zealand (FANZ).

As a bit of a reminder to viewers:

In May, the NBR reported the Green Acres Group – the country’s largest franchiser – had recovered from the $4 million fraud, which involved an individual selling a home ironing franchise to several hundred investors for more than $20,000 each.

The media reason given is Green Acres but the Discussion Paper cites a total of 3 reasons:

  1. information imbalance [assuming more of the same pre-sale disclosure information will help],
  2. cost of any remedy [keep litigation but make mediation mandatory], and
  3. reputation damage that interferes with the franchise industry’s ability to sell, sell, sell.

Curious how the wrong that seems to get the most attention is the negative publicity drag on the head office as opposed to the $4-million cash lost to the recent immigrants.

Time will tell if this proposed regulation turns out to another McLaw: the illusion of franchise investor protection. A cynical interpretation makes this spin designed to get past the next election.

  • One great suggestion is a requirement for every franchise system to join the FANZ and be held accountable to its Franchising Code of Practice [download pdf].
  • Mandatory legal advice would be a real step forward, too. [A Certificate of Independent Legal Advice from both spouses to make a franchise agreement enforceable.]

These standards would apply to all members of the FANZ community [lawyers, accountants, consultants, salespeople] and not just to the franchisors. Right?

It would be a shame to have salespeople or consultants not being responsible for their advice let alone the professionals [franchise lawyers and accountants] who have an existing statutory duty of care to provide prudent advice.

It would seem a shame to maintain the fraud incubator where a Blue Chip v2.0 can flourish [ie. defrocked professional uses franchising as a mask and liability shield that causes thousands of the most vulnerable to lose their homes].

The standard when evaluating public official actions is, if I recall correctly:

  • knew or
  • could have been reasonably been expected to know.
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New Zealand announces a franchise regulation review at a sales expo

August 18, 2008

The national Labour government of Helen Clark announced on August 15th that:

The Ministry of Economic Development is conducting a review of franchising regulation to explore whether there are any widespread problems in the franchising sector which may require franchise specific regulation.

The announcement, via the Ministry of Economic Development, can be seen here or the Discussion Paper can be downloaded here [Review of Franchising Regulation in New Zealand, pdf]

  • There have certainly been enough high profile franchise nightmares and spectacular fraud investigations to justify this action: Blue Chip, Green Acres, Green Power. And, usually, only the most severe ever surface into the national media [tip of the iceberg].

Further coverage was provided by the Franchise New Zealand trade magazine in an article named: Government Wants Feedback on Franchise Regulation.

Interestingly, the Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel made the government’s annoucement at a franchise sales show. You can see her entire speech here and please find below Minister Dalziel’s concluding remarks to her franchisor marketing and franchise banker audience:

Can I conclude by congratulating all of you for participating in this Expo and can I thank the Franchise Association for its advocacy for a sector that is a vital part of the New Zealand economy. Can I acknowledge the sponsorship of Westpac – these events don’t happen without sponsors – and can I congratulate those of you who have been chosen as the ‘show stoppers’ for going the extra mile.

It is important, at certain times, to remind those in authority that they serve citizens’ interests as well as corporate interests.

  • I would encourage franchise investors and those affected by no franchise industry oversight [such as Blue Chip] to voice their opinions to their elected officials, current government, media outlets and financial institutions.

Blue Chip finger puppetry?

August 8, 2008

Team A: This is a picture of Jeff Meltzer of Meltzer Mason Heath, New Zealand.

A Mr. Aaron Heath says that after six months investigation, it is still too early to know what to write in their promised reports. Hmmm.

This is not a trivial little financial bubble involving a tiny franchise system tanking.

Blue Chip and its founder and Oz resident Mark Bryers have caused 2,000 Mom and Pop Kiwis to lose over $80 million as 20 related companies went buns up kneeling.

It appears the liquidator’s actions and sense of urgency have the full support of Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel and the Clark government.

Team B: Anne Gibson from The New Zealand Herald reports this week in Blue Chip process frustrates lawyers that:

Two lawyers acting for more than 300 Blue Chip investors say they are aghast at the scale of the task and are angry about what they say is a distinct lack of Government aid for investors.

Specifically, how helpful have the liquidators been in assisting the the two lawyers (Paul Dale and Daniel Grove) in trying to defend the 2,000 citizens?

Grove says his firm has been greeted only with hostility from the liquidators so far. “We requested a document and were told we needed a court order.”

Illustratively, it is these two barristers that are:

Issuing proceedings against two Auckland lawyers – whom the barristers refused to identify – for professional negligence over advice to clients who became Blue Chip investors.

The two lawyers are doing this: not the liquidators or the Government.

  • You Decide: Is it Team A or Team B that appears to be putting on a cheesy puppet play?

Legal Aid used to fund franchise lawsuits

July 23, 2008

Now here are a couple of novel ideas from New Zealand.

Maria Slade at the ever-vigilant New Zealand Herald reports today that the 2,000 investors who have lost over $84-million in the Blue Chip franchise collapse are being encouraged to apply for legal aid to finance their attempts at getting thier money back.

Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel says she is:

interested in helping Blue Chip investors find ways and means to access legal advice, particularly in this case where lack of funding is a barrier to legal recourse.

This is a first: I have never seen a publicly funded legal aid program used to fund a franchise legal action.

Not that surprising that the New Zealand government doesn’t want to touch the Blue Chip mess with a 10 foot pole. It’d raise too many questions about lax commercial regulation, I’d imagine.

  • Something about creating a very friendly feeding ground for massive consumer fraud, targeting Kiwi senior citizens.
  • International financial market laughingstock? Or some other alarmist conclusions.

The second is that the the lawyers and valuation firms are being scrutinized for their professional competence.

Law firm Ellis Law, together with barristers Paul Dale and Daniel Grove, are acting on behalf of several hundred of them. Activity includes taking legal action against solicitors over allegedly negligent advice they gave on the investments.

Valuers who provided allegedly inflated valuations on properties sold through the Blue Chip scheme are also in the lawyers’ sights.

But we’re missing a key ingredient to the Blue Chip fraud sausage: The lenders. Where are they in this fiasco? The last time I checked, there should be some type of regulation or lapdog self-regulation to cover these lenders.

  • Could it be the government is handing over the heads of the small fries [no-name lawyers and valuators] to avoid looking responsible for not regulating lenders sufficiently?
  • The Kiwi government knew or would have been reasonably been expected to know that lax or no lending regulations causes loss.
  • When the chickens come home to roost, the government blames everyone except themselves.

This fraud would have been impossible without a source of funds. I suspect the government was asleep at the switch as $ millions fed this humongous scam.

  1. Remember: Sue the SOBs with insurance, when you don’t have the cojones to sue the government and Her Majesty’s ministers.

Oz Alert: Shrewd businessmen immigrating

May 22, 2008

If you happen to bump into Bob Bangerter (left) or his fellow Blue Chip founder Mark Bryers (below) say hello for me.

I take Bob at his word: He is not, as some media outlets portray him, a rich old fiddler.

As far as the former lawyer Bob Bryers is concerned, a conviction for drunk driving (see Blue Chip’ Bryers blows the bag) and a divorce (see Blue Chip investors’ hopes fade) don’t seem to be slowing him down a bit.

It appears that Bryers is back in the real estate/franchising saddle but this time working full-time in Sydney, AU after becoming less popular in New Zealand (2,000 unhappy investors, $80-million losses).

Sydney property investment company Barkley Walsh says it is a subsidiary of ASX-listed Northern Crest Investments. Northern Crest was previously called Blue Chip Financial Solutions and is the parent company of many of the Blue Chip-related companies in liquidation in this country. Trading in its shares has been suspended since February.

To understand how franchising can be used to market over-priced assets AND dodge tiresome old real estate regulations, I recommend a very instructive article on http://www.stuff.co.nz called The Blue Chip Scandal: the valuations process.

Perfectly legal, I assure you.

Meanwhile back at the scene of the non-crime, the NZ Commerce Minister (a lawyer) continues to demean her office by publicly begging bottom-feeding finance companies to not collect on their perfectly legal Blue Chip mortgages.

This time on national radio.

BTW:

  1. Businesspeople will do what they can get away with to make a buck. That’s their job. If they don’t, they deserve to be fired.
  2. Everything is legal unless there is a specific statute to say it is illegal.
  3. The politicians’ job is to make sure legislation and enforcement are there so thousands are not impoverished by “aggressive capitalists”.

Don’t blame a leopard for having spots (see #1), fall for any excuse du jour why laws were castrated (see #2) or be confused as to the duty of this cabinet to its electorate (see #3).

This isn’t complicated, folks: A franchisor corporation is created. They recruit unsuspecting franchisees who are the only ones legally responsible for selling into a real estate bubble. The franchise system takes in the money and rapidly moves it to a related company. The franchise system (mask) is then killed off to sever legal liability to the principals and the cash.

SOP (standard operating procedure) in franchising, all around the world.


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