A senior manager employed to the audit firm PwC yesterday testified that ATL boss Gordon 'Butch' Stewart was among several senior executives who received payouts from the surplus of the group pension scheme.
This was one of several crucial concessions by Carolyn Bell-Wisdom, a senior auditor at PwC, during cross-examination at the $1.6-billion fraud trial involving three former executives employed to Stewart.
Bell-Wisdom, who led a review of the pension fund for the 2007 financial year, replied "yes" when defence attorney Frank Phipps asked if she found, during her review, that Stewart was a beneficiary of the disbursements from the scheme.
"Did you find any objection from Stewart or anyone else saying, having received the money, 'We did not approve this and we are going to return it'?" asked Phipps, the attorney for Patrick Lynch, the former chairman of the ATL Pension Fund board of trustees.
"To my recollection, I saw no objection," Bell-Wisdom replied.
It is reported that Stewart, who is scheduled to give evidence at the trial, has given a statement denying knowledge of the payout.
Lynch and former ATL Pension Fund General Manager Catherine Barber, along with Dr Jeffrey Pyne, the managing director of Stewart's holding company, Gorstew Limited, are on trial for allegedly disbursing over $1 billion from the surplus of the fund without authorisation and using forged letters to justify the payouts.
In another crucial concession, Bell-Wisdom said while her review found that the trustee/rules of the pension scheme showed how the board, with approval from Gorstew, could utilise the "actuarially" determined surplus, it also noted that "further details were not specified".
"For example, guidelines on how distribution would be determined," she testified, reading from a report of the review.
"The implication, in the absence of guidelines, is there may be ambiguity. This may particularly be an issue whenever there is a change of key personnel," she continued.
Bell-Wisdom also testified that she found no documented guidelines that outlined how Gorstew's approval should be obtained for surplus distribution.
She will continue giving evidence today.