In one version of events, a humble locksmith who lives in a modest home on the dry Wimmera Plains three hours from Melbourne is actually a Keyser Soze -- a man with more power and Machiavellian skill than his appearance and sincere responses to investigating liquidators would denote.
According to this telling of the story, locksmith Tim Batchelor – despite his shop in the dusty town of Horsham facing severe financial difficulty -- purchased two properties in desirable inner city enclaves on trust for alleged fraudster Philip Whiteman and his ex-wife Sherife Ymer.
So generous was the 36-year-old Batchelor he even agreed to wear a $75,000 debt associated with one of the properties despite not having any financial interest in the homes – a decision that would mean he would ultimately face bankruptcy for his kindness.
The other version of events is that Batchelor is a hapless victim of a financial scam operated by disgraced accountant Philip Whiteman.
Batchelor has told public examinations at the Federal Court in Melbourne during two appearances over the past few weeks his name and signature has been used on documents without his permission, or that in some circumstances he signed documents after being told by Whiteman it related to his tax affairs.
He has said he was shocked to find out his name was on the title of the two properties and that he did not understand what a trustee was or did.
The way events have unfolded in court, the liquidators from Pitcher Partners investigating an alleged $100 million phoenix scam run by Whiteman appear to believe the second version of events is closer to the truth.
Picking over business dealings
This week Ben Gibson, counsel for liquidators Andrew Yeo and Gess Rambaldi from Pitcher Partners, has been picking over parts of Whiteman’s business dealings - including how Batchelor came to be the trustee of two trusts that owned two inner-city properties in Melbourne in which he had no financial interest.
One of those properties, once owned by Whiteman and two business associates, would end up being at the centre of a legal dispute when the two business associates learned the property had been transferred into a trust where Batchelor was the trustee, and sued Batchelor.
This week prominent corporate lawyer Jonathan Kenny, who has worked for Whiteman on a variety of legal matters and received referrals from Whiteman-linked law firms, was quizzed over his handling of the dispute.
During a hearing this week an increasingly frustrated Kenny pointed to an email from Batchelor that showed he had permission to act on his behalf in regards to a property in trendy Balaclava and to take instructions from Mr Whiteman, who was bankrupt at the time.
Kenny also told the court he had communicated with Whiteman while Whiteman was using other names including Philip Graham, Philip Damon and Philip James as well as Philip Whiteman since first being introduced to the man in 2011.
In regards to another property, in the desirable inner bayside suburb of Elwood, Kenny told the court that while he had not been able to locate written instructions to act in relation to the property dealing involving Batchelor, he believed his firm Kalus Kenny had received permission from Batchelor to act on his behalf.
He said he had received verbal instructions from Batchelor over the phone in regards to that property and the Balaclava house.
The court heard this week Kenny and Whiteman attended the mediation on the Balaclava property dispute without Batchelor and agreed to settle the matter with Batchelor paying $75,000. Kenny told the court he had a verbal conversation with Batchelor before agreeing to the settlement.
When sent an email by Kenny about the terms of the settlement Batchelor emailed Whiteman, saying simply: "WTF".
Batchelor has previously told the court he was not aware of the settlement and had no idea it was on foot. During his testimony Batchelor has become emotional and appeared shocked when taken to documents including one relating to his potential bankruptcy over the $75,000 debt.
The other property deal also raised questions for Kenny about Batchelor's knowledge of the deal.
When asked by counsel for liquidators at Pitcher Partners Gibson if he had made file notes specifically in relation to instructions given by Batchelor in regards to the Elwood property, Kenny said another lawyer at his firm may have made a file note on the matter.
He added: "I didn’t always make file note and when I did sometimes it made it into the file and sometimes it didn’t." He said that his firm often did not get formal engagement letters to act on specific matters if the client had initally appointed the firm as its legal representative.
'Money in a bag'
The court heard Kenny's firm Kalus Kenny accepted cash payments totalling $100,000 from Whiteman and a business colleague as a deposit on the house being bought by a trust in which Batchelor was the trustee.
"When Mr Whiteman did [bring the money to my office] he had the money in a bag," Kenny told the court, adding he believed the money had come from Armstrong and Shaw, rather than Whiteman. Whiteman was bankrupt at the time.
In that instance, Kenny said he made file notes on the cash deliveries and reported the transactions to Austrac as per the law.
In regards to Batchelor, Kenny is holding firm that he had the man's expressed permission to act on his behalf. But for Batchelor, it's a very different story. He has told the court that on advice from Whiteman he gave Kenny permission to act on his behalf, but he thought it was in relation to his tax affiairs.
When asked by Gibson if he had given Kenny permission to act in his behalf, Batchelor said: "I know it says yes in that email, but otherwise no."
The examinations continue.