HIH Insurance founder Ray Williams is innocent and only agreed to plead guilty to three charges because he believed it was the only way he could avoid a jail term, according to a priest who provided character evidence for the former executive.
Father Dave Smith, of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill, has revealed that Williams believed the corporate watchdog and prosecuting authorities were waging a vendetta against him and that he would be found guilty “no matter what”.
In a lengthy treatise published on the On Line Opinion website on Monday, Father Smith said Williams told him the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions would drop other charges if he confessed to three charges.
Williams is considered the biggest scalp of the probe into the $5.3 billion collapse of HIH four years ago.
He pleaded guilty to three charges of making misleading statements about HIH’s financial position and failing to properly exercise his duties as director of what was then Australia’s second-largerst insurer. “He was told in no uncertain terms that if he did not confess to the three little crimes, the legal team would pursue him with everything they had and the case would drag on for another two to three years. It would cost him $2 million to $3 million more in legal fees and he would certainly end up in jail at the end of it all,” Father Smith wrote.
He said Williams told him, before his sentencing in the NSW Supreme Court in April, that he was innocent
“These things they want me to properly exercise his duties as a director plead guilty to… I didn’t do them,” the priest writes that Williams told him. “If the charges were simply that I’d been negligent, or had overlooked something I shouldn’t have overlooked, I think i could live with that
“But these charges say I deliberately misled people and that I knowingly withheld information and, David, I didn’t! If I had known some of these things, there’s no way I would have held back the information.
“I didn’t know these things. But now they’re telling me that unless I confess to the charges, I will go to jail.”
The 68-year-old is serving a 2 3/4-year non-parole period at Cessnock Prison north of Sydney.
Father Smith submitted a character reference for Williams to the court but did not take the stand on his behalf.
He did not return calls yesterday.
Williams did volunteer work for the church and for Father Smith’s youth program before he was jailed. HIH was a donor to the church and the program and the insurer’s collapse left them financially stricken.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission deputy director of enforcement Allen Turton said Father Smith’s words were “unusual, with some extraordinary statements”, but declined to comment further.