Ben Polis faces bankruptcy over an unpaid $582,000 tax bill to the Australian Tax Office but the disgraced founder and former chief executive of Energy Watch says he will pay the money back.
The one-time high flyer appeared on billboards around Melbourne in his underpants and attended the Brownlow Medal after Energy Watch entered into lucrative sponsorship arrangements with the Melbourne Football Club, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Rebels.
At its peak Energy Watch took more than $20 million from some of Australia’s largest companies and employed more than 230 staff across Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.
However, Polis’ empire began to crumble after he had to step down from his role at Energy Watch after making racist and offensive remarks on his personal Facebook page.
“Somebody, a past employee I suspect, took snippets from my Facebook over a year-and-a-half period and tried to say I was racist, sexist and misogynist, which is not true,” Polis told SmartCompany at the time.
This was followed by claims of high turnover and management problems at the energy comparison company.
Liquidators stepped in to discover Energy Watch has $8.6 million of unpaid liabilities, including $1 million in employee entitlements and superannuation.
The saga culminated in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission bringing proceedings in the Federal Court against Energy Watch and Polis for misleading advertising.
Energy Watch copped a $1.95 million fine and Polis personally was fined $65,000.
The ATO’s pursuit of Polis makes his fall from grace complete with court papers showing in October last year the Victorian Supreme Court ordered Polis to pay up the unpaid tax.
The ATO claims Polis has failed to pay and has asked the Federal Magistrates Court to declare Polis bankrupt, with a hearing set for March 14 in Melbourne.
However, Polis told SmartCompany his lawyers have been in negotiations with the ATO and his intention is to pay the money to the ATO back and avoid being made bankrupt.
“So I won’t be declaring bankrupt, yes I am back on my feet and I am doing stuff, if I wasn’t doing anything I wouldn’t be able to pay for anything,” he says.
“I am in the process of setting other business ventures up, yes. Are they currently active, no?”
Polis says any money he makes from his new ventures will go towards paying back fines and tax from when he was not more diligent about his financial situation.
“I am quite pissed off that I have acquired this $582,000 debt while I was unaware that I got this director’s penalty notice and I also was not aware that my business partner, Luke Zombor, had not paid the taxes,” he says.
“When I got this penalty later on it was too late as I had already been made personally liable. The real issue is that if you are the director of a company and you are not aware of the company’s financials and also the situation of what is happening legally outside of it then you put yourself at huge risk.”