7 March 2024

Griffith winemaker’s multi-million dollar ‘personal’ expenses scrutinised in liquidation hearing

| Oliver Jacques
Aaron Salvestrin

Aaron Salvestrin did not appear at Wednesday’s (6 March) court hearing. Photo: Supplied.

Purchases of a PlayStation, a universal home theatre system and a mystery item in France were scrutinised at a Supreme Court hearing into a collapsed Griffith winery on Wednesday (6 March).

Sans Pareil Estate, owned by 29-year-old Aaron Salvestrin, went into liquidation in October 2022 and allegedly owes the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) $32 million.

The liquidator, Gavin Moss of insolvency firm Chifley Advisory, launched Supreme Court proceedings to recover money from Mr Salvestrin, alleging the company director made several “personal” transactions that did not benefit the business and therefore breached corporation law.

READ ALSO ‘Wrong letterbox’: Supreme Court insolvency hearing on Griffith’s Warburn winery delayed by alleged postal mix-up

The ATO claims the winery created fake Business Activity Statements (BAS) to claim just over $17 million worth of GST refunds to which it was not entitled.

“The [Sans Pareil Estate] businesses don’t appear to have made any sales, at least according to the records available have disclosed,” Andrew Martin, the lawyer for the liquidator, told the court.

Mr Martin said that while the winery may have sold some wine, most of the company’s income was being obtained from ATO refunds.

He detailed liquidator evidence that allegedly showed money from winery bank accounts coming in from the ATO and then being transferred onto American Express credit cards in Mr Salvestrin’s name.

A McLaren P1 with doors open

Only 375 McLaren P1 supercars were made and one was bought by Mr Salvestrin. Photo: Wikipedia.

It is alleged that $6.3 million of expenses were made on these credit cards.

“It was used for all sorts of things not obviously associated with the business,” Mr Martin said.

“On June 28, there are two payments to the PlayStation network. Your honour might be aware that PlayStation is a gaming console that allows people to play video games online.

“On July 1, there was an almost $10,000 payment for a universal home theatre system.

“On July 19, there is a transaction of about $6000, which appears to have been converted from Euros for a gallery in Paris.

“I think it’s a shop, a department store,” Judge Anthony McGrath interrupted.

“Your honour is more familiar than I. It’s been a long time since I was in Paris … but again, this is an Australian wine business. It’s not immediately apparent why money is being spent in Paris … on [Mr Salvestrin’s] American Express card,” Mr Martin responded.

The liquidator is seeking to make the case that if Mr Salvestrin spent company funds on personal expenses, this money should be repaid to creditors.

Mr Martin said the 29-year-old defendant had not provided any explanation or justification for his American Express expenses. He did not appear at Wednesday’s hearing and was not represented by a lawyer.

The court heard that Mr Salvestrin sent an email to a liquidator lawyer on 4 February 2024, saying he had a “mental health situation”.

Justice McGrath reserved his judgement on the matter, meaning he would make it at a later, unspecified date.

READ ALSO ‘Stunning’ Salvestrin Griffith house advertised for sale for $790,000 after Supreme Court battle

Region has also exclusively reported that a McLaren P1 supercar signed by Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo, owned by the winery, was sold by the liquidator in January 2023 for $1.47 million.

A spacious five-bedroom house in Collina bought through Sans Pareil Estate at 39 Brooks Street was recently advertised for sale for $790,000. It has now been taken off the market and is listed as “under offer”.

This Supreme Court case against Mr Salvestrin is in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to property or money and is not a criminal matter.

Mr Salvestrin has not been charged with any crimes related to this matter.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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