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Fruit exporter jailed over $1 million fraud

Date

Adam Cooper

The former director of a fruit exporting business has been jailed for falsifying invoices to obtain more than $1 million while he was trying to save his company.

County Court judge Michael Bourke on Thursday said it was regrettable he had to impose a prison term on Jason Aubrey Kotz given he was not motivated by greed, but said the seriousness of the offending meant there was no other option.

Between January and April 2010, Kotz disguised used invoices as new ones to fleece more than $1 million from the ANZ Bank, which had a credit arrangement with JAK Fruit, a Mildura-based business which exported citrus fruits, grapes and avocados to south-east Asia.

Kotz had access to a bank loan facility, which would pay up to 90 per cent on invoices issued to overseas purchases of fruit, the court heard.

The court heard Kotz illegally obtained the money in an attempt to ease the pressure on the business, which had been hit hard by the combined effects of the global financial crisis, the high Australian dollar and the drought in the Sunraysia region.

Judge Bourke said JAK Fruit experienced a drop of up to $10 million in its turnover in 2009-10, during which the bank withdrew its support, an administrator was appointed and anomalies in the company's finances were discovered.

More than $500,000 of the money Kotz obtained remained unrecovered, the court heard. Kotz, 45, pleaded guilty to eight charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception.

The court heard at the time of his offending, he was stressed and anxious, drinking alcohol heavily and feeling the effects of living away from his wife and children.

Kotz lost his family's home in Adelaide through the collapse of his business, as well as a holiday house in Victor Harbor and a small farm, Judge Bourke said. Kotz's parents also faced the prospect of losing their home.

Judge Bourke said Kotz was remorseful, had good prospects for rehabilitation and that his plea had spared a long and costly investigation, and a trial.

But he said the crimes were serious and that general deterrence was the most important part in imposing a prison term.

He sentenced Kotz, now living in Geelong, to spend six months in jail, with-two-and-a-half years suspended for a period of three years.

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