Taxpayers may foot the bill for unpaid wages after beleaguered newspaper publishing company Evans Publishing became insolvent on November 8.
But staff are still employed – Evans Publishing now trades as Independent Publishing Australia (IPA) and retains a largely familiar board, according to Echo sources. IPA publishes seven newspapers in regional and coastal areas of Qld and NSW, including the Tweed Coast Weekly.
A spokesperson from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) told The Echo, ‘the department has received a number of claim forms from employees of Evans Publishing and we’re also aware of the circumstances in regard to Independent Publishing Australia.’ They added that ‘no assistance has been paid as the claims are still being assessed.’
Creditors, including the Australian Tax Office (ATO), were apparently left footing the bill for $2.8 million after liquidation on November 8.
It’s understood that liquidators RMG Partners sold the company’s titles to a consortium of previous owners plus businessman Scott Williams of Armidale.
According to The Echo’s sources, Independent Publishing Australia is 51 per cent controlled by Mr Williams while wife of former Evans Publishing director, Alison Evans, holds 49 per cent (under Evans Family Investments).
The restructure – which appears completely legal – also comes after Evans Publishing entered voluntary administration in September last year, owing substantial debts to creditors and the Australian Tax Office.
Then-director Brad Evans emerged from the administration after winning creditors’ support for a Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) that would have seen Evans pay unsecured creditors including the ATO less than 13 cents on each dollar owed. That forecast appears to have vanished altogether following the company’s liquidation.
ASIC records show the company had just $649 in the bank on October 17, 2012 after the administrator’s fees and expenses of more than $200,000 were paid.
Entered voluntary admin
According to the Voluntary Administrators’ report from September 6 last year, when creditors convened to consider the company’s future, a key feature of the DOCA that was to govern the company’s affairs included Williams taking over as controlling shareholder and chief financial officer.
This was later amended to Williams becoming chief executive officer of Evans Publishing. However, according to Echo sources, Williams held the CEO role for just five months before relinquishing the company’s management back to Brad Evans, who simultaneously resumed his role as the company’s director.
It’s not known what role IPA plays in the management of the newspapers bought by IPA.
None of the officials involved in the Evans insolvencies – IPA, the ATO, ASIC or the liquidator – would speak to The Echo about their involvement in the company’s collapse or its subsequent sale back to Williams and Evans.
It’s understood IPA has offered more than $290,000 for the titles to be largely paid in deferred instalments.
The Echo’s source added that the ATO has now lodged another proof of debt with RMG liquidators.