The Commonwealth Bank, Macquarie Bank and Bank of Queensland have ferociously rejected allegations about their involvement in the Storm Financial collapse and declared they would defend legal action launched today.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission initiated proceedings after the three banks failed to meet last Friday’s deadline to reach compensation deals with about 14,000 investors caught up in the $3 billion corporate collapse.
ASIC will allege the banks were involved in Storm’s operation as an unregistered managed investment scheme.
It is also pursuing Storm’s founders, Townsville couple Emmanuel and Julie Cassimatis.
Their lawyer, Steve Russell, said the couple would not comment.
In a second proceeding, ASIC is seeking compensation on behalf of two investors from BOQ; the owner of a Townsville franchisee of the bank; and Macquarie; claiming breaches of the banking code and the Trade Practices Act and unconscionable conduct.
ASIC's proceedings are separate to a class action taken out against CBA, and another class action due to be filed against Macquarie Bank tomorrow.
The banks have defended their decisions to approve margin loans to Storm-referred customers and pointed the finger at ASIC, which issued Storm's financial services licence in 2003.
They argue they did not provide personal financial advice to Storm clients, provide home mortgages through Storm or pay or receive any commissions from the financial planner.
Macquarie was the last bank to respond to the claims today, describing ASIC's action as "unsustainable and speculative".
A statement says: "The bank maintains that its conduct, and that of its staff, has been ethical, lawful and professional".
CBA's statement says ASIC’s arguments do not fairly reflect the role played by other parties, including the corporate watchdog.
The statement said CBA had been ‘‘open’’ with ASIC about the compensation and had engaged an independent panel of former judges and barristers.
‘‘The bank fundamentally disagrees with ASIC’s view of the role of banks in losses suffered by Storm investors,’’ the statement says.
‘‘The bank maintains its view that the losses incurred by many Storm clients were caused by Storm’s financial advice. It is apparent that because Storm, its principals and the Storm financial advisers are unable to provide compensation the focus has moved to the banks.
‘‘ASIC’s legal proceedings can only create further uncertainty and delay for former Storm Financial clients. This is in stark contrast to the tangible results already provided for Bank customers through the Resolution Scheme.’’
BOQ managing director David Liddy said the bank had received legal advice that it had not acted illegally or dishonestly and said it would "vigorously" defend the court action.
Mr Liddy issued a statement to "clarify" the bank’s involvement with Storm.
He said BOQ provided loans to about 370 Storm-referred customers but it had employed independent valuers to assess home equity loans and that all customers had been able to fully service their loans until Storm collapsed.
"We had a zero default rate and no complaints from customers who had invested in Storm Financial prior to its collapse," he said.
Storm, a Queensland-based financial planner, had lured investors to borrow against their homes and use margin lending to buy shares, which collapsed during the global financial crisis.
Some investors, including many retirees, lost their homes in the fallout. The banks were criticised for approving the loans.
Macquarie Bank has not responded.
Fairfax is reporting today that victims with margin loans through Macquarie Bank were forced into deeper losses as a result of a procedural failure by the bank which was covered up.
The operational failure has never been made public by the bank despite its executives giving evidence before a federal parliamentary inquiry into the collapse.