Newsroom Special Inquiry

Companies Office questions over Waiwera firms

While NZ Football is out of pocket thanks to the failure of Waiwera Water NZ, the Companies Office is investigating invalid director consents relating to the failed group of companies formerly headed by Russian magnate Mikhail Khimich

New Zealand Football threatened to put the controversial Waiwera Water New Zealand bottling company into liquidation almost a year before the company went under earlier this year.

And as questions emerge around one of the directors of three linked Waiwera companies, there also appear to be irregularities with the Companies Office registration of a new shareholder and a director of the companies.

Waiwera Water New Zealand and two sister companies, Waiwera Thermal Resort and Waiwera Global, collapsed earlier this year collectively owing around $5 million to creditors.

All three companies were formerly owned by Russian businessman and reported billionaire Mikhail Khimich and were later bought by the Ordover Trust which is linked to the reported Las Vegas-based diamond trader Leon Fingerhut, who appears sometimes to be known as Leon Fingergut.

But creditors say the group hadn’t been paying its debts for some time. NZ Football signed a 12-month sponsorship deal worth $57,500 in 2016 but a letter of demand dated March 8, 2018 shows it hadn’t received any of the money.

NZ Football’s lawyers Shieff Angland contacted Waiwera Water New Zealand threatening to put the company into liquidation if it didn’t pay up.

“We invite one final opportunity to avoid recovery proceedings,” the letter says. “If payment is not made, we are instructed to issue a statutory demand.”

It’s not clear if the money was forthcoming, although NZ Football doesn’t appear on the liquidator’s list of creditors of Waiwera Water New Zealand. NZF communications manager Peter Thornton wouldn’t comment, saying the $57,500 deal was a “commercial arrangement”.

A company structure showing some of the Waiwera group of companies. Graphic: Vanita Prasad

NZ Football wasn’t alone in its frustrations. Later in 2018 the company that owns the land the hot pools and bottling plant are on, Waiwera Properties, cancelled the lease to Waiwera Thermal Resort and locked the doors, after failing to get rent payments for up to two years.

The hot pools and slides complex, a popular destination for locals and tourists, closed down ostensibly for renovations in February 2018.

Liquidator Staples Rodway put Waiwera Thermal Resort's assets up for sale but there’s no news about any possible buyer. According to a former employee, the liquidator “is considering whether a claim should be brought against the directors for breaches of their duties under various legislation”.

Which is where the mess gets even more complicated.

The three companies Waiwera Water New Zealand, Waiwera Thermal Resort and Waiwera Global were until recently owned and run by Russian businessman Mikhail Khimich.

Khimich, who made his money from Naftasib, an energy company supplying oil and gas to the Russian military, came to New Zealand on his super yacht Thalia in 2009 and bought the Waiwera water bottling plant and hot pools the same year. He remains a director of all three collapsed companies, plus various other companies that are not in liquidation.

But late last year Khimich sold his remaining 80 percent stake in Waiwera Water New Zealand, Waiwera Thermal Resort and Waiwera Global to 20 percent shareholder the Ordover Trust, which is connected to the Las Vegas-based Leon Fingerhut.

Fingerhut, who is hard to track down on the internet, but appears to sometimes go by the name Fingergut, is listed as a director of the three Waiwera companies.

Yet Companies Office records show that the consent and certificate documents notifying Fingerhut as a director are signed not by Fingerhut himself, but by Khimich - a clear breach of Companies Act requirements.

A Companies Office spokesperson did not know why Khimich signed Fingerhut’s director consent forms but said the issue was being referred to the Registrar’s Integrity and Enforcement Team to review and discuss with the liquidators if required.

There also seems to be a problem with Ordover Trust’s buying the three now-in-liquidation Waiwera companies.

The Companies Act says an unincorporated trust cannot be registered as a shareholder; instead the trustees should be listed on the shareholder register. But there are no trustee names on the Waiwera registered documents and there doesn’t appear to be any record of the Ordover Trust being incorporated.

The Companies Office spokesperson couldn’t comment on whether the Ordover Trust was incorporated or not, but said that with the Waiwera companies being in liquidation, the director and shareholder details on the Companies Register are not able to be changed.

“We would also note that under section 258A of the Companies Act 1993 liquidators have a duty to refer any suspected offending to the Registrar of Companies.”

Newsroom has tried to contact Leon Fingerhut but has not yet received a reply. 

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