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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
Boss of 'Australian Enron' jailed
Ray Williams, former HIH boss, arriving at court in Sydney
Ray Williams is 'disappointed' by the length of his jail sentence
Raymond Williams, the former boss of insurance firm HIH, has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for his part in Australia's biggest corporate collapse.

Dubbed Australia's Enron, HIH went bust in 2001 with debts of A$5.3bn (2.1bn; $4.1bn).

Nine former executives were charged over the scandal and Williams, known for big spending, admitted misleading and reckless corporate behaviour.

Williams's lawyers will appeal against the "manifestly excessive" sentence.

Nationwide

The scandal affected tens of thousands of policy holders across Australia and sent the industry into a crisis from which it is still fighting to emerge.

The jailing of Williams comes a day after former HIH director Rodney Adler was also sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, said Phil Mercer, the BBC's correspondent in Sydney.

Williams' criminal behaviour went to the heart of HIH's demise
Investigators of the HIH case

"The government in Canberra said it hopes the jail sentences would send a strong message that corporate crime would be investigated, and that heavy penalties would continue to be imposed," our correspondent says.

Sixty-eight-year-old Williams was found guilty of hiding the true extent of HIH's perilous finances.

In order to increase its share of the insurance market, the company had drastically reduced the price of its premiums.

It left HIH, which was Australia's second-largest insurer, without enough money to cover future claims.

Creative accounting

Senior HIH executives were found to have manipulated accounts to show non-existent profits, and charged into the US and UK markets without making adequate financial provision.

Ray Williams, former HIH boss, arriving at court in Sydney
Shockwaves are still being felt

When it collapsed, many thousands of policy holders were left uninsured, or out of pocket.

Investigators have said Williams' criminal behaviour went "to the heart" of HIH's demise.

The size of Williams's spending sprees shocked many observers, and he was said to have spent thousands of dollars on jellybeans, cigars and gold watches, as well as giving large loans to friends and workers.

'Bitterly disappointed'

Defence lawyer Robert Heathcote said Williams was "bitterly disappointed" by the length of his sentence and would appeal immediately.

Bruce Dennis, a lawyer representing about 3,000 HIH shareholders, said that the court had weighed up the case "very fairly".

HIH was eventually brought down by the purchase of Australian former insurer FAI.

It paid about A$300m without verifying FAI's value properly, only for it to turn out to have a net worth of minus A$300m.

The failure of HIH put the spotlight on the behaviour of senior executives in Australia before the Enron and Worldcom scandals in the United States.


SEE ALSO:
Australia in 2bn bankruptcy suit
13 Nov 02 |  Business


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