Sorting out failed firm continues

Graham Smolenski
Graham Smolenski
Three years after its multimillion-dollar collapse, the liquidation of boutique Queenstown insurance company Western Pacific Insurance appears set to drag on for at least another two years.

About $50 million to $60 million of insurance claims are outstanding and unsecured creditors have lost almost $17 million.

While Western offered 7000 policy-holders around the world insurance cover amounting to $10 billion, it was put in liquidation in April 2011 when it was unable to pay just $6 million in Canterbury earthquake claims - a figure which at one point spiralled up to more than $60 million in claims.

Western was placed in liquidation by its owners, Queenstown businessman Graham Smolenski and his brother in law, Jeff McNally. Grant Thornton NZ was appointed liquidator.

In the latest six-monthly report, joint liquidator David Ruscoe said it was not yet practicable to estimate a completion date and it was likely to take until at least 2016, because of the large amount of work ahead in assessing and agreeing on the Canterbury claims, and in recovering money from the reinsurers of the claims.

Loss adjusters are working on about 60 insurance claims, estimated to be worth about $37 million, and the liquidators had received ''preliminary reports'' on a further 20 claims, he said.

''Distributions to Canterbury policy holders will occur after all the earthquake claims have been quantified and agreed,'' Mr Ruscoe said.

It was estimated claims from the Canterbury earthquakes totalled $48.3 million, which suggested a shortfall of at least $11 million, based on the liquidator's $37 million estimate for 60 of at least 80 claims.

However, there appeared to be no chance of of the many unsecured creditors seeing any of the total $16.9 million of their claims.

Mr Ruscoe said it ''appears unlikely'' there will be any dividend available for unsecured creditors.

The unsecured creditors include insurance claimants owed $15 million, trade creditors owed $1.1 million and $740,000 of unexpired premiums.

Also outstanding for Grant Thornton is more than $600,000 in premiums which were being held by ''various'' insurance brokers, for which the liquidators are having to submit claims through the courts.

A 2012 court case determined the reinsurance payouts would go to the Christchurch earthquake victims, as opposed to being paid to any other insured parties and creditors.

The list of Western's 24 reinsurers used during 2010-11 included three Lloyd's syndicates as well as companies based in Sweden, Barbados, Singapore, India, Australia and Malaysia.

In 2011, Grant Thornton noted Western Pacific had accepted risks ''outside the scope of its reinsurance policies'' and ''in some instances, premiums were too low''.

Western was able to operate with just a $500,000 bond lodged with Perpetual Trustees, and the potential liabilities of more than $10 billion included policies offered in Australia, Chile, Abu Dhabi and Pacific Island countries.

Western had applied for membership of the Insurance Council of New Zealand several years ago, but was rejected, although the council declined to say why.

-simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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