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Pratt says ACCC case an “abuse”

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Lawyers for disgraced Visy chairman Richard Pratt have labelled charges brought against him by the competition watchdog an “abuse of process” and will argue they should be tossed out of court.

Lawyers for disgraced Visy chairman Richard Pratt have labelled charges brought against him by the competition watchdog an “abuse of process” and will argue they should be tossed out of court.

Pratt could face a jail term of up to four years if he is convicted of having lied to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigators about his knowledge of cartel arrangements between Visy and competitor Amcor.

Pratt’s barrister, Robert Richter QC, also indicated that senior ACCC officials, including chairman Graeme Samuel, will be subpoenaed to give evidence.

There is little love lost between Pratt and Samuel, and the prospect of the latter’s appearance as a witness raises the prospect that some of that bad blood could spill out in the Federal Court.

Richter fired the first shot in the battle of reputations in a statement to the court yesterday, saying the ACCC case represents “an egregious abuse of process against an honoured and honourable Australian who is more than 73 years old”.

Pratt’s “abuse of process” allegations concern whether the ACCC was duplicitous in waiting to bring the charges until after the civil case was finalised and whether they should be allowed to use statements given by Pratt to settle the civil case to help convict him of these criminal charges.

While Pratt is pursuing a not-guilty strategy, Addisons competition law partner Kathryn Edghill says the statements yesterday could also be laying groundwork for the possibility of a loss.

“They are running an argument about the improper use of admissions,” Edghill says, “but on a second level some of these statements appear to go to a plea in mitigation, that he’s a fine upstanding citizen and wasn’t really aware of what is happening.”

Even if the ACCC is prevented from relying on the statements made by Pratt in settlement of the cartel case, Edghill says there would be nothing to stop them bringing evidence from Amcor executives and Pratt himself to test whether he lied to investigators.

It is unlikely Pratt would have been unaware that he could face criminal sanctions if he lied when making statements to ACCC investigators during the cartel investigation.

“He has a well-advised team of very good lawyers,” Edghill says. “For this kind of proceeding, which is effectively perjury, the risks and penalties involved are pretty well known.”

The case may encourage whistleblowers to come forward and provide evidence or statements before the ACCC commences formal investigations that give rise to the risk of perjury, Edghill says.

 

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