A dying man who is being asked to pay over $100,000 to get his own collection of antiques and family heirlooms back says he’s frustrated his last months are being spent in a legal battle.
The Federal Court will hear an application on Thursday from the administrator of collapsed auction house Mossgreen on why it should be able to charge hundreds of clients fees totalling more than $1.6 million to get their own things back.
The ABC understands the administrator BDO Australia has requested clarification from the court, after being queried by the corporate regulator ASIC over the fees and after numerous complaints from consignors.
The process has left cancer sufferer Neil Robertson, 62, bewildered.
He has been charged more than $104,000 to get goods worth about $70,000 returned.
“What the administrators are seeking to charge me, the ransom as it were, is considerably more than they estimate the goods being worth,” he said.
“It’s very hard for me because this is constantly in my mind.
“I’m not a very angry person, but I must say I’ve boiled with rage over this on a number of evenings when I’ve been trying to go to sleep. I don’t think it’s very good for me.”
The former head of Open Gardens Australia, Mr Robertson decided to sell hundreds of antiques through the auction house after he was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer and given a year to live.
He was going to use the money to help fund a move from country Victoria to Melbourne to be closer to treatment, and to travel in his final months.
In September, prior to his move, two employees from the auction house went through his home and took hundreds of goods, including family portraits that had been in his family for generations.
Mr Robertson said they took more than he had originally agreed to, but he wasn’t concerned as he was reassured he could get his goods back.
“I was feeling pretty low because I was on chemo[therapy] and I had to go out that day. The understanding was that what they took was negotiable,” he said.
“They would take it, it would go into their store, and once I’d moved out and they got the balance of the things I wanted to sell that there would be certain things I could take back.”
But before any formal agreement had been reached, Mossgreen went under.
Mossgreen ‘broke promise’ to return items
In December, Mr Robertson was given assurances from Mossgreen that he would get his goods back after the Christmas break.
However in January he was told he could only get them once a stocktake had been completed.
The next month he received a letter from administrator BDO Australia saying if he wanted his things he would need to pay $104,000.
About 600 consignors are in the same position as Mr Robertson.
Mossgreen was holding 4,663 lots when it went into administration, and BDO Australia is charging consignors a levy of $353.20 per lot to get their items back.
“On our appointment Mossgreen’s stock-keeping systems were inadequate. In order to obtain an accurate understanding, we had to undertake a comprehensive physical stocktake,” BDO Australia said in a statement.
“A levy is being charged to ensure the reasonably and properly incurred expenses of dealing with the goods in possession of Mossgreen are met without prejudicing Mossgreen’s many other creditors.”
Some clients retrieved items without levy
But the ABC has learned that while BDO Australia is refusing to return some people’s belongings unless they pay amounts exceeding $100,000, it has returned others without charging a fee.
The ABC understands at least six consignors had their goods returned in January and weren’t required to pay a levy.
The Mossgreen clients had turned up to the company’s premises and demanded their things back.
Collector Antony Davies, who has to pay $27,549 to have his goods worth $17,000 returned, said that was grossly unfair.
He said he called the administrator several times in December, when the company went into voluntary administration, and in January, but was told he could not collect his goods.
“I’m fairly distressed and outraged,” he said
“I feel happy that those people were able to recover their goods … I’m very pleased that they could. But that treatment of some people over others is quite wrong.”
In a statement, BDO said a few consignors had collected goods before it had been appointed and introduced a levy.
“The administrators needed to assist consignors with their reasonable requests so that had a DOCA [Deed of Company Arrangement] been provided, it had a better chance of being supported by both consignors and creditors.”
Mossgreen has assets estimated at $2.8 million, but owes $14.8 million to creditors, including staff of the auction house and vendors whose items had already sold.
As part of Thursday’s hearing, BDO Australia has asked the Federal Court to rule that all its court costs be paid out of Mossgreen’s limited estate.
BDO Australia also said it may have to increase the consignor levy to cover storage and staff costs if the dispute drags on.