Opinion: creditors still waiting as gravy train derails

Buildev founder and tax office target Darren WilliamsTHATwhining noise you can hear is the sound of the Nathan Tinkler gravy train coming to a grinding halt.
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It was a gravy trainmany thought would go on forever.For years, the former billionaire and young rich-lister splashed cash in such a frenzy that most of us, including this newspaper, couldn’t help but be impressed.

The Newcastle Jets needed saving, Tinkler was there. He bought the Newcastle Knights, thought about revitalising the Newcastle CBD and even offered to fly the lord mayor to China when the cash-strapped council couldn’t afford it.

Tinkler gave his executives generous salaries, air travel and accommodation, luxury cars, bonuses and expensive gifts.And for those who jumped on the gravy train, it was as if their Christmases had come at once.

In return Tinkler’s executives, for as long as they lasted, were loyal to the point of swimming in Kool-Aid andwilling to do just about anything for him.

But this week, the Newcastle Herald revealedthe tax office is chasing former associates of Tinkler for millions of dollars in tax owed by Tinkler Group companies.

As Tinkler faces personal bankruptcy, Darren Williams – co-founder of Buildev Group –confirmed the tax office was chasing him for almost $900,000.The total bill being chased by the ATO using “directors’ notices” could reach $10 million.

So Williams and others wanted, or agreed, to be directors of Tinkler Group companies, lured by the perks, power and prestige.Some even ended up with spectacularly healthy bank balances.But now with theTinkler empire in tatters, Williams is keen to distance himself from it all, especially the debt.

He says Buildev was “a good successful company” before Tinkler bought into it in 2008 and “began using it as his own personal construction company”.

The crucial point Williams appears to be missing is that as a director, he agreed to accept a host of responsibilities, and some of these extend to creditors.

With the sum of Tinkler’s losses and their causes leaving most of us scratching our heads in disbelief, it’s the tax office, employees and suppliers who have been left holding the bill.

For years, creditors and employees were baying for Tinkler’s blood because he, and his entourage including Williams, were flying around in private jets and helicopters as bills went unpaid.Some business owners were forced to remortgage their homes, increase overdrafts or sell their cars because they were not paid for work or goods supplied.

There was an avalanche of litigation as desperate people struggled to get what they were owed.A handful of business owners and employees went public with their contempt for Tinkler’s business practices, which had them laden with debtthreatening to drag them under.At the time, we heard nothing from Williams or any of the other loyal Tinkler executives.They convinced themselvesthat the best strategy was to keep running with the herd.

Williams enjoyed a closefriendship with Tinkler based on a mutual love of fast cars and flash toys.The pair spent time together in Tinkler’s “toy shed” at Steel River.And while it’s refreshing to see Williamspublicly acknowledgingthat all was not right in the Tinkler camp, it’s far too little too late.

I have never met Darren Williams. If I did, I’d hand him a copy of the Australian Security and Investments Commission guide for company directors.

It’s all there in black and white.

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