The High Court has been asked to appoint a provisional liquidator to investigate the affairs of a Dublin-registered forestry company that is alleged to have taken €30 million from investors.
The application has been made in relation to GWD Forestry Limited, with a registered address at Northumberland Road, Dublin 4.
GWD, the court heard, is insolvent and unable to pay its debts.
The company proposed to go into voluntary liquidation at a creditors’ meeting last December.
However, investors in the company are concerned about the way the firm has been run and about its plan to go into voluntary liquidation.
GWD’s attempts to go into voluntary liquidation were not done in accordance with Irish company law, it is claimed.
It is alleged that a second creditor’s meeting has been called by the company and is due to take place later this week.
Arising out of his concerns about a proposal to again seek to wind up the company, one investor, and a creditor of GWD, has petitioned the court to appoint insolvency practitioner Declan de Lacey, of PKF O’Connor Leddy Holmes, as provisional liquidator.
Franco Bertellino, from Rivoli in Italy, says he wants Mr de Lacy appointed to mitigate risks including preventing the company from proceeding with an improperly convened creditors’ meeting.
He never received any return from the company from his investment, he says.
Mr Bertellino also has concerns that a liquidator may be appointed at the creditors meeting who may be more closely aligned with the interests of the company’s directors than the company’s creditors.
LRepresented by Robert O’Reilly B, instructed by Denis I Finn solicitors, the court heard that in 2014 Mr Bertellino invested funds with entities he believes are related to GWD in respect of coconut trees in Brazil.
He says he was offered and accepted a series of replacement contracts in 2017, which he claims resulted in GWD acquiring plantations of ‘Bixa Orellana’ trees, Poplars and Christmas trees in Canada and Brazil on his behalf.
He became concerned after the company decided to hold a creditors’ meeting in late December with the purpose of winding the company up.
That meeting was presided over by Benjamin Taylor, who claims to be the company’s sole director. Mr Taylor was also advised at the meeting by an English solicitor called John Pennie.
It is claimed Mr Taylor told the meeting that as the sole member it was decided that due to its liabilities the company was to be wound up voluntarily.
It is claimed that Mr Taylor had unwittingly become the sole shareholder and director of the company on behalf of a person called Mark Raynor, also known as Mark Lewis Daulby, the alleged main influence behind the company, who was convicted in 2003 of fraud involving the sale of investments to the public.
Mr Taylor originally resigned as director of the firm in 2015, after becoming uncomfortable with Mr Raynor’s behaviour, but in 2021 he agreed to return as a director to facilitate an investigation of the firm’s activities undertaken by the solicitor, Mr Pennie’s, firm.
He said he was told that the company collapsed as far back as 2018 due to the actions of individuals placed in a position of trust.
It also emerged that Mr Taylor lacked access to or a full knowledge of the company’s assets and liabilities, the whereabouts of its books and records, its bank balances, or who GWD’s creditors are.
Further issues of concern were that GWD allegedly filed statements with the CRO that falsely disclosed that it was dormant and had never traded when it was trading and took in an estimated €30 million from forestry schemes marketed to the public.
Some of the company’s assets may no longer exist while others may have been moved into a network of loosely connected companies, it is alleged.
The firm’s Christmas tree crops were harvested annually, it is claimed, but none of the proceeds appear to have been received by GWD.
The application to appoint the provisional liquidator came before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore on Tuesday.
The judge directed that the company be made aware of the application and adjourned the case to this Thursday.