A foreign exchange broker, who has long since stood accused of masterminding a scam, has pleaded guilty.
The Serious Fraud Office of New Zealand, which brought the case against 52-year-old Russell Maher, announced the news in a press release on its website.
Maher appeared at Auckland District Court today (July 23rd) to submit his plea.
He was accused of, in total, 47 charges of using forged documents. He provided the documents to his trading clients, which in turn misled them to believe that his company was in a better financial position than it actually was.
The company, called Forex Brokers Limited (or FBL), was actually not in good financial health.
In a sign of its poor performance, it later went into liquidation. Despite that, Maher presented an image of positive performance to clients.
The liquidation of the firm occurred in April 2017, while Maher declared bankruptcy in 2018.
Now that he has submitted the plea, Maher has been remanded until his sentence is announced on September 30th. However, he was granted bail.
It is understood that he could face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for each charge, although it is not yet certain whether he will be given the maximum available penalty for his crimes. That will be determined by the courts in September.
Speaking after the guilty plea, the Serious Fraud Office’s Acting Director Rajesh Chhana described Maher’s behaviour as “arrogant and, ultimately, criminal actions”.
“Mr Maher risked client funds and New Zealand’s reputation as a safe place to do business through his arrogant and, ultimately, criminal actions”, he said.
“He used his clients’ money to maintain the façade of a successful business. Significant losses to client funds could have been avoided if Mr Maher had behaved honestly and accepted that his business had failed”, he added.
The charges against Maher were first brought earlier this year.
In a statement published back in June, the Serious Fraud Office announced that Maher had entered no plea when he faced the court.
The company, of which he was the sole director, was used by firms in the automotive sector. The Serious Fraud Office said that car yards and others in the car importing sector were common users of the firm.
It is understood that his wife, whose name does not appear in the statements released by the Serious Fraud Office, owned shares in the firm – as, of course, did Maher himself.
New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office describes itself as playing a role in preserving the country’s reputation.
“The presence of an agency dedicated to white-collar crime is integral to New Zealand’s reputation for transparency, integrity, fair-mindedness and low levels of corruption”, it says.
“This work contributes to a productive and prosperous New Zealand and the SFO’s collaborative efforts with international partners also reduce the serious harm that corrupt business practices do to the global economy”, it added.
It was set up in 1990 and is responsible for looking into cases of finance-related crime, as well as corruption among power holders.