MP Nicky Wagner in website sale stoush

MP Nicola Wagner

National MP Nicola Wagner has pursued her debt chase of Auckland businessman Robert Gill to court, saying he bought her website business without paying.

The Christchurch Central MP sold 75% of her popular Fashion NZ and Garden NZ websites to Mr Gill's company Digital Partners for $700,000 in 2008.

But she says he has only paid her half that amount and has since stripped Digital Partners of its profitable assets to avoid paying an arbitral award of $319,606 and costs of $21,000 made against it in 2011.

Proceedings in which Mrs Wagner is claiming $340,000 opened at Auckland High Court today and are expected to run for the rest of the week.

Giving evidence before Justice Rebecca Ellis, Mrs Wagner said when she sought payment of the balance from Mr Gill he had moved assets to his related companies so she could not get to them.

That included the 2010 sale of the websites without her consent and the loss of a contract with Netball New Zealand worth $334,000 in annual revenue – now held by another company associated with Mr Gill.

Mrs Wagner told the court the websites were her "babies" and the long-term goal of the partnership with Mr Gill was to build them up and sell them for a profit.

But she had not seen a cent from their sale, in late 2010, without her consent. It was a two-step sale, first to a related company and then to Times House Digital for $450,000.

Mrs Wagner said Mr Gill had not complied with the February 2011 arbitral order of Barry Paterson QC, and steps to place the websites into voluntary receivership soon after were an unlawful means of conspiracy to remove prime assets from her grasp and render the company worthless and unable to pay her.

When Digital Partners was placed into receivership in 2010, its websites were touted to be making an annual profit $452,700 - the lion's share from Fashion NZ and Garden NZ, she said.

And she claimed her websites had generated total revenue of more than $1.3 million for DIgital Partners before they were sold.

A one-year extension of the Netball NZ contract alone would have generated enough money to have repaid her debt, she said.

But she alleged the contract was unlawfully swapped into another company associated with Mr Gill, who is expected to argue the Netball NZ contract was terminated.

Mrs Wagner says she was "incensed" by Mr Gill's "covert manoeuvres to run off with my businesses and not pay me".

"I think it's unbecoming of someone with his net worth to be shuffling assests around in attempt to avoid legally payable and undisputed debts as awarded by the arbitrator."

She said she just wanted to be paid. "Mr Gill could write me a cheque today and I'll go away quite happily."

Separately, Mr Gill is suing his former business partners Malcolm Beattie and Anthony Regan for about $11 million, alleging the pair poached valuable VIP clients when they departed corporate hospitality company Premier Events Group, in which he holds an 80% stake.

Mr Regan will be called as a witness for Mrs Wagner later in the week.

Proceedings continue.

gbond@nbr.co.nz

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