Catering empire's final bill at $4m
Fiona Wright ran Diecie Mezzo restaurant in Civic and held catering contracts at the National Gallery of Australia and Defence Department. Photo: Lyn Mills
Failed companies owned by Canberra restaurant doyenne Fiona Wright and her business partner Jeremy Paul owe more than $4 million to employees and creditors, ranging from $10 to The Essential Ingredient to more than $2 million to the Australian Tax Office.
Reports compiled by the liquidator Henry Kazar and obtained by The Canberra Times show that it is still not clear if any of the creditors will receive a return, although employees may get a percentage of the money owed to them.
The reports show that employees of the companies that ran the now-closed Dieci e Mezzo restaurant in Civic and catering contracts at the National Gallery of Australia and Defence Department are owed $1.233 million in unpaid wages, superannuation and annual leave.
Almost $950,000 in unpaid superannuation is owed to 488 former and current employees alone.
The amount owed for long-service leave, pay in lieu, redundancy and some unpaid wages is still to be determined.
Ordinary unsecured creditors are owed $2.97 million, including bakeries, wineries, meat producers and a truffle maker.
But by far the greatest amount of debt is owed to the Australian Tax Office - at least $2.02 million in superannuation, GST and pay-as-you-go tax liabilities.
The ACT Revenue Office is also owed almost $680,000 in payroll tax from the two companies subject to the reports, Wright's Fine Foods and Ten and a Half. The liquidator is also investigating two other companies, with all four entities owing a total of just under $1 million in payroll tax, penalties and interest. The investigations of the other companies could also reveal more debt.
The reports for Ten and a Half and Wright's Fine Foods show about $900,000 in bank accounts as well as the sale of assets including a BMW 3 Series vehicle, right down to 400 cases of wine, will be used to attempt to clear the debt.
Creditors' meetings will be held at the Hotel Kurrajong in Barton on November 29 and 30.
Mr Kazar was appointed liquidator of the companies in October by the ACT Supreme Court on the application of the Commissioner for ACT Revenue.
The Australian Tax Office had also previously started winding-up proceedings against both companies to pursue its debt.
Mr Kazar said in the reports he was still investigating what returns were available to creditors and employees but employees might receive a dividend in relation to unpaid wages and superannuation.
He said Ten and a Half - the company that ran the Dieci e Mezzo restaurant and the catering contracts at the National Gallery - had ''incurred significant trading losses through its operations, the causes of which are still the subject of my ongoing investigations''.
''The failure of the company was ultimately brought about by an unresolved debt due to the Commissioner for ACT Revenue, in respect of unpaid payroll tax,'' his report read.
Mr Kazar said in his report that Ms Wright and Mr Paul had made a range of assertions as to the reasons for the failure of Ten and a Half including:
■ The conduct and management of the contractual relationship at the National Gallery.
■ Difficulties associated with the control and forecast of revenue at the National Gallery.
■ A change in interpretation of payroll tax policy by the ACT Revenue Commissioner that brought about a ''grouping'' of the Wright group of companies.
Mr Kazar said in the report he could not comment at this stage on those assertions and they remained the subject of his investigations.
Dieci e Mezzo was closed by the liquidator in October. Another contractor has taken over the catering at the National Gallery.
The liquidator is still running Wright's Fine Foods, the company that provides catering services to the Department of Defence at Russell and Campbell Park.
Ms Wright and Mr Paul, according to the liquidator's report, said Wright's Fine Foods failed partly due to it having to subsidise the ''loss-making operations'' at the National Gallery. There were also difficulties associated with the management of the Defence contact and with pricing and site management at Defence.
The change in interpretation of the payroll tax policy had also had an impact on Wright's Fine Foods, the report said.
Mr Kazar said that, again, he was still investigating those claims.