TRUEGAIN boss Robert Pullinger has been convicted and fined for not co-operating with a NSW Environment Protection Authority probe into his finances.
The environmental watchdog was attempting to investigate claims made by Pullinger that he stopped cleaning-up his abandoned heavily contaminated waste-oil refinery at Rutherford because he had run out of money.
Pullinger and two companies he is a director of, Donpat Investments and JM & BP Superannuation Fund, pleaded guilty to failing to comply with an order to hand over financials.
Magistrate Tim Keady told the Parramatta Local Court on Tuesday that if Pullinger was unable to fund the clean-up, there was a chance the community would be forced to pick up the bill.
Heavy metals, hydrocarbons and PFAS - the substance at the centre of the Williamtown red zone scandal - have been found in large volumes at the plant and in the surrounding environment.
The court heard that Pullinger, and five companies linked to him, were required to produce financial records by June 16 last year, dating back to July 2018, or almost two years after Truegain collapsed.
Pullinger wrote to the EPA in June stating that three of the companies, Glowbye, Bellham and Donpat Investments, never submitted tax returns and did not have any bank accounts as they "never generated any income or tax losses".
He claimed that he paid "wages to staff" from JM & BP Superannuation Fund when Truegain went into liquidation in September 2016 and it had $116 in the bank.
When the EPA contacted the Commonwealth Bank and Pullinger's accountant, it discovered Pullinger and the entities held 12 bank accounts, including four which still held funds.
Donpat Investments had an account with $713, the super fund had $116, Pullinger had $5932 and Pullinger and his partner Jane Mulvihill had $9789.
The court heard that Pullinger's accountant was initially unwilling to assist him to provide documents due to outstanding fees and that the clean-up bill at the plant was already well in excess of $1 million.
Pullinger's lawyer Lauren Sims said non of the entities had the capacity to "pay a substantial fine".
Magistrate Keady said as Pullinger was trying to "avoid financial responsibility" for cleaning up the pollution, the onus was on him to prove that he couldn't afford it.
"He was obliged to follow through and prepare the necessary documents to corroborate his claim," he said.
Pullinger and the two companies were fined $3000, ordered to pay $4689 in legal fees and must publish a statement in the Newcastle Herald outlining the offences.
Pullinger is due back in the Land and Environment Court in April, facing further charges in relation to the contamination.
The EPA has also started debt recovery action against Pullinger in an attempt to recoup $1.178 million it has spent trying to contain pollution at the refinery.
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