The Court of Appeal (President Maxwell , Justice Weinberg and Justice Priest) today dismissed appeals by Mr Steve Iliopoulos and Mr Vasilis ‘Bill’ Bariamis against their convictions for offences involving fraud against the Commonwealth Bank (‘CBA’) and attempting to defraud Westpac Bank. Each applicant had been convicted of multiple counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and one count of attempt to obtain a financial advantage by deception.

The offences arose out of representations made to the banks to induce them to provide lending facilities and hire purchase/equipment finance to the Viking Group of Companies. Mr Iliopolous was the Chief Executive Officer of the Group and Mr Bariamis was the General Manager. The ‘lending facilities’ charges were founded on a joint criminal enterprise involving the two applicants and Loukia Bariamis, Chief Financial Officer. She had pleaded guilty to three charges and gave evidence at the applicants’ trial. The ‘equipment’ charges were brought against Mr Iliopolous only although, in the course of the trial, it became common ground that Loukia Bariamis was heavily involved in the commission of those offences.

There was no contest that the relevant documents submitted to the banks contained falsehoods. In relation to the lending facilities, the documents included fictitious debts and debtors. The equipment finance applications included false purchase prices and false information about the status of the equipment. 

The applicants had conducted their defence on the basis that they had no knowledge of the falsehoods. They alleged Loukia Bariamis alone knew of the falsity of the relevant documents. They appealed on the ground that the convictions were unsafe and unsatisfactory, submitting that upon the whole of the evidence it was not open for the jury to find that they knew of the false representations. 

Counsel for Mr Iliopoulous focused on the evidence of Ms Bariamis, who was described as ‘entirely lacking in honestly, credibility and reliability’ and ‘a spectacularly dishonest individual’. The Director conceded there were significant issues with respect to her credibility and reliability but submitted that this did not constitute an obstacle to conviction in light of the other independent evidence.

The Court of Appeal upheld the Director’s submission noting that the defence hypothesis for Mr Iliopoulos

failed altogether to confront the substantial body of evidence from third parties – none of which was seriously challenged – which showed [Mr Iliopoulos] to be commercially shrewd, financially astute and actively engaged in decision-making about the business.

Mr Bariamis relied on an alleged absence of clear evidence that he knew of the false representations. The Court found the submission unsustainable concluding

it was well open to the jury to be satisfied that [Mr Bariamis] knew of the false statements in the financial documents provided to the bank.

The Court considered a separate ground of appeal in relation to Mr Bariamis’ conviction for attempt. He submitted the steps taken to re-finance with Westpac amounted to no more than ‘preparation’ and could not support a conviction. The Court dismissed the submission finding that

Viking had taken all of the steps which were necessary to have its application considered.  But for the query raised by the Westpac officer about the apparent anomaly in the accounts, the application would have been processed by the bank.  There was nothing further for Viking to do.

The Court also dismissed an appeal by Mr Iliopoulous against his sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment for the attempt charge. It was common ground that due to the amounts involved he was to be sentenced as a ‘continuing criminal enterprise’ offender and that, consequently, the sentencing judge was obliged to apply an increased maximum penalty. The Court held that it was reasonably open to the judge, having considered all the relevant circumstances, to impose the sentence that he did. The Court said:  

The sentence of five years did, of course, represent 50 per cent of the increased maximum but … the attempt to have Westpac refinance Viking’s facilities involved a very large sum, namely $53 million.  This was more than double the amount obtained as a result of [other] frauds … Had it succeeded, this would have been a fraud of major proportions.

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NOTE:  This summary is necessarily incomplete. It is not intended as a substitute for the Court’s reasons or to be used in any later consideration of the Court’s reasons.  The only authoritative pronouncement of the Court’s reasons and conclusions is that contained in the published reasons for judgment.

Read the Court's full judgment on AustLII (External link)

Author
Supreme Court of Victoria
Publisher
Supreme Court of Victoria
Date of Publication

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