PHOTO: Henri-Claude Louis Philippe Du Pont
He now has an elaborate French name but this fraudster spent his teens playing footy in Tasmania. Now he is again under fire over his business dealings prompting fresh questions to the embattled corporate regulator.
A bankrupt conman is again being pursued by furious developers in a dispute over a multimillion-dollar property deal on Melbourne’s fringe, as the corporate regulator faces pressure to act on years of warnings about the faux French fraudster.
Henri-Claude Louis Philippe Du Pont, who was born in regional Tasmania as Phillip Wickham before taking on his elaborate French name, is facing a new legal dispute over a 40-home development.
The latest controversy has prompted fresh questions about the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which last year received evidence from a liquidator of potential misconduct by Du Pont but took no action, and has also allowed him to continue to use an incorrect Toorak address on business documents, causing a headache for the actual residents.
The developer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the pair were introduced late last year, and Du Pont agreed to work with him on the project.
The developer alleges Du Pont agreed to come on board as a partner with the intention of becoming a shareholder, and there was an understanding he would contribute some funding.
Du Pont, though, has not put any money towards the project, the developer says, and is instead demanding thousands of dollars in fees for work he says he has already done as a project manager.
The developer claims there was a “mutual understanding” that Du Pont’s work was as a partner rather than as a consultant who would charge an hourly rate.
The developer, who paid a deposit of more than $500,000 for the property, is now planning to take legal action.
Du Pont said he had acted as a “representative for a shareholder in the development” and confirmed there was a dispute between shareholders. He said the way the dispute had been characterised by the developer was incorrect.
“The dispute’s resolution provisions in the shareholders’ agreement is required to be implemented,” he said. “Subsequently, I am unable to provide any further details due to that agreement.”
The 68-year-old, who has been convicted of fraud and has for decades stirred controversy along Australia’s east coast, was declared bankrupt in March 2020 and remains an undischarged bankrupt, meaning he is disqualified from managing corporations and being a director of a company.
But company records show that Du Pont was between November and March reinstated as the sole director of Dupont Zedong Private Capital, a company he registered with his wife in 2014.
An ASIC spokesman said people who were bankrupt were usually prevented from being appointed as corporate officeholders, but the matching of bankruptcy details was not automatic.
Investigations by Anthony Phillips, who oversaw the liquidation of Du Pont’s meat and poultry business PQM (Vic) Pty Ltd, found the company was possibly trading while insolvent and reported to ASIC that Du Pont might have breached several laws last year.
Phillips said a Federal Court examination of Du Pont in 2021 had provided significant evidence of potential misconduct but no action had been taken.
“There has been no prosecution to date in relation to this apparent misconduct,” Phillips said this week. “We understand that with limited resources available to the corporate regulator to prosecute offenders, not all liquidator reports can be actioned. This is regrettable as this misconduct will escalate if not properly addressed.”
An ASIC spokesman said the regulator did not comment on any investigations it was or was not undertaking.
Sources within the corporate regulator, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential material, said the report had been considered but it had been determined that there was insufficient support to continue with the matter.
John Winter, chief executive of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association, slammed the “systemic regulatory failures” that had enabled Du Pont to continue to operate.
“Sadly, this is all too common. We’ve got so many examples of this sort of thing where insolvency practitioners do all of this investigation work, often at their own cost, and they serve it up to ASIC, but there is absolutely no interest,” Winter said.
He accused ASIC of preferring to take administrative enforcement action, such as banning directors, rather than pursuing criminal prosecutions.
“That’s completely inadequate. If someone is continuing to operate, like Du Pont, then ASIC has manifestly failed. There has to be a disincentive and there’s dodgy advisers out there telling directors they will get away with it because ASIC doesn’t enforce.”
Du Pont has registered dozens of companies for at least two decades under variations of his old and new name. Some have been registered to an address on the Avenue Charles de Gaulle, in the centre of Paris, while many others have been registered to a multimillion-dollar home in Toorak. This address was used by Du Pont on business documents as recently as November last year.
The owner of that home and her husband do not know Du Pont and have received his mail for years. They have had debt collectors show up on their doorstep looking for Du Pont, terrifying their two young children and resulting in them contacting police.
The couple, who wanted to remain anonymous for their privacy, said they were still receiving the letters, despite repeatedly contacting authorities – including ASIC, the Australian Electoral Commission and VicRoads – to try to stop their address from being associated with the fraudster.
“Frustratingly, the regulators and police seem powerless to intervene,” they said.
The couple said they hoped ASIC utilised the new director ID system to curtail Du Pont’s use of the address from occurring.
During a public examination of Du Pont during Federal Court bankruptcy proceedings in 2021, he claimed to have leased the home for several months, but was vague about when he had done so.
He claimed that he had used it because it was the address listed on his driver’s licence, which he had not got around to changing. “I have … obviously been slacking [sic] in changing the address,” he said.
ASIC is facing a parliamentary inquiry into long-running concerns that it is an ineffective regulator. It was revealed this month that ASIC uses an automated system to dismiss allegations of serious wrongdoing by company directors in as little as 38 seconds, allowing thousands of bosses who oversaw failed firms to escape scrutiny over the past five years.
Emails provided to The Age show that Du Pont has recently been using an email signature purporting to be the “executive chairman” of “DuPont Group”. Company records show The DuPont Group is a family trust owned by a couple who run a luxury boating business on Sydney’s northern beaches. The pair said they had no links to Du Pont.
Du Pont’s email signature also contains a logo for “Lexington Station” claiming it was established in 1841. The logo includes an image of a ram, which is almost identical to the logo used by a merino wool production company based in Russia.
Those who have known Du Pont say he insisted that people used the French pronunciation of Henri.
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