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Judge wants speedy trial in ASIC's pursuit of Prime Trust directors

A FEDERAL Court judge has ordered a speedy trial in a case brought by the corporate regulator against company directors including Peter Clarke, the chairman of Victoria's urban renewal authority, and Michael Wooldridge, a former federal health minister, over their involvement in failed nursing home empire Prime Trust.

Justice Bernard Murphy rejected submissions from counsel for the directors that the proceeding should be transferred to the Victorian Supreme Court, where a compensation case dealing with many of the same events is already under way.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has asked the Federal Court to disqualify Mr Clarke, Mr Wooldridge, Bill Lewski, Kim Jaques and Mark Butler from being company directors, and order the men to pay a pecuniary penalty.

Both the ASIC civil penalty case and the Supreme Court case, run by receivers of Australian Property Custodian Holdings, the company that controlled Prime Trust, deal with the payment of a $33 million fee to Mr Lewski, who founded the group, following the listing of the trust on the ASX in 2007.

Because of the apparent duplication, Supreme Court judge Ross Robson earlier this month described ASIC's Federal Court proceedings as ''prima facie vexatious and oppressive'' and ''very odd''.

''I consider that the interests of justice are best served by ordering an expeditious trial of the penalty proceeding in this court,'' Justice Murphy said in a judgment yesterday.

He said he would like to start the trial on April 4, but would move it back to the first half of May if the parties could not be ready in time.