RICHARD PRATT may spend the next four years in jail after he was charged on Thursday by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC alleges Australia’s fourth-richest man lied when he said he could not remember conversations he had in 2001 about price fixing arranged between Visy and rival Amcor’s corrugated box businesses.
Pratt and his family were said to be shocked by this new proceeding and the 73-year-old Kew father of four, who is worth $5.48 billion, stood aside on Friday from all his public positions, including as president of the Carlton Football Club.
He has not said whether he will step aside as chairman of cardboard manufacturer Visy.
Pratt’s lawyer Leon Zwier announced “Mr Pratt will vigorously defend himself,” but refused to answer any questions while reading from a prepared statement.
“Visy’s and Mr Pratt’s disputes with Graeme Samuel’s ACCC were resolved last year following mediation before a former high court judge,” Zwier read.
“Visy’s CEO John Murphy says this matter will not affect the running of the Visy business as it moves forward under the guidance of the Visy Australasia board led by by Ted Kunkel,” Zwier read.
The ACCC lodged a summons in the Federal Court on Thursday, charging Pratt with four counts of knowingly giving false or misleading evidence in the investigations into alleged price fixing between Visy and cardboard rival Amcor.
Justice Peter Heerey found Visy and Amcor had fixed the cardboard packaging market over five years, and that Pratt had profited at the expense of every Australian from it.
Other victims of the racket included Coca-Cola Amatil, Goodman Fielder and Lion Nathan. Visy and Amcor admitted colluding. Pratt at the time apologised for his 60-year-old company’s role in the cartel.
The new charges Pratt faces relate to an alleged conversation he had with former Amcor chief executive Russell Jones at a hotel in 2001, which Pratt denied took place.
When asked at an ACCC hearing in 2005 whether he remembered the chat, Pratt told prosecutor Peter Jopling QC: “No, I can’t recollect”. “I would have recalled such a conversation and there never was one.”
Pratt also returned his Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) – Australia’s highest honour – earlier this year.
From humble beginnings, Visy, founded in 1948 by Pratt’s Polish immigrant parents is now said to be the world’s largest privately-owned packaging, paper and recycling company.