Eric Watson’s sentence reduced due to mitigating factors including testing positive for Covid-19, judge says

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Eric Watson claimed to have no assets with which to fund a settlement, and his only prospect of paying Kea was through money earned in the future.

Chris Skelton/Stuff

Eric Watson claimed to have no assets with which to fund a settlement, and his only prospect of paying Kea was through money earned in the future.

New Zealand businessman and former rich lister Eric Watson would be unlikely to succeed should he attempt to appeal a prison sentence handed down to him for contempt of court, a UK High Court judge says.

A long-running legal between Watson and former business partner and philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn came to a head in the High Court of England and Wales this month when Watson was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of court, after withholding information about his assets from Glenn.

In a recently uploaded judgement Lord Justice Christopher Nugee, who has overseen the “horrendously complex case” since it started in 2016, said Watson had a right to appeal the sentence without his permission, but he did not think “that there is a real prospect” of the Court of Appeal allowing for one.

Justice Nugee also said Watson had tested positive for Covid-19 and Watson’s lawyer Thomas Grant QC had noted recent reports of the impact of Covid-19 on prisons.

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Justice Nugee said he would have sentenced Watson to six months prison or more had it not been for personal mitigating factors including the impact of Covid-19 both on Watson personally and on the prison system.

Other mitigating factors included his relationship with his partner, and in relation to his children as well as the stresses and strains of the proceedings, even though a large reason for the time and complexity of it all was attributable to the complexity of Watson’s financial affairs, the judge said.

“But I accept that facing this application in these circumstances has been a very difficult, stressful experience for you which, in itself, has been a form of punishment,” Justice Nugee said.

“I am willing to reduce the sentence from what it would otherwise have been to make it as short as possible.”

Sir Owen Glenn says he has three types of cancer and the past decade has been difficult.

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Sir Owen Glenn says he has three types of cancer and the past decade has been difficult.

Meanwhile, in a statement to Stuff, Glenn said he had three types of cancer and other maladies like diabetes.

“My last 10-12 years have been difficult,” Glenn said.

He said he and his team had decided to keep a low profile.

“I will leave it up to the good people to judge whether he (Watson) was treated justly.”

In 2018, Lord Justice Christopher Nugee ruled that a £129 million (NZ$252m) European property investment Glenn’s company Kea entered into with Watson, called Project Spartan, had been procured by deceit by Watson.

Justice Nugee ruled Kea was entitled to £43.5m compensation from Watson who was ordered to make an interim payment of more than £25m, plus £3.8m in costs.

Kea alleged Watson had committed numerous counts of contempt by failing to provide information relating to millions of dollars in funds, shares and other assets held by Watson or related parties.

Justice Nuggee found Watson breached of a number of provisions from a court order but just one qualified as a “contumacious breach” resulting in contempt of court.

The breach related to details of all of Watson’s interests held by his mother, Joan Pollock, which Watson had been ordered to provide but deliberately failed to do so when asked.

“I am satisfied that this was a serious contempt, deliberate and contumacious, and designed to conceal from Kea an asset which they were entitled to know about,” Justice Nugee said.

Deliberate breaches of court orders were always serious because they had a tendency to undermine the administration of justice, he said.

“As I have said before, the entire system of the administration of justice depends upon persons who are ordered to do things by courts actually doing them.”



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