Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

DETI slaps 13-year ban on former company boss

A developer and shop owner with an address at a Co Armagh castle has received almost the longest possible ban from acting as a company director.

Craig Bennett (38) who lives in converted flats at Gosford Castle near Markethill, was disqualified for 13 out of a maximum of 15 years by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment over his conduct as the head of Dreemore Developments.

He accepted a litany of instances of unfit conduct, including misappropriating £400,000 in company money which had been forwarded by Northern Bank for buying property.

DETI also said the man had paid himself £374,000 which was more than the company, which had a registered office in Fivemiletown, Co Tyrone, could afford to pay at the time.

The firm, which operated in property development and retail with five Mace shops, owed £10m when Cavanagh Kelly were appointed administrative receivers by Northern Bank in 2009.

According to a notice released by DETI yesterday, Mr Bennett also gave misleading information on assets to the receivers.

He also allowed 352 cheques to bounce unpaid from the company's bank account, and failed to pay direct debits. The cheques and direct debits were worth a combined £1.5m.

Mr Bennett accepted behaving in an unfit way by selling his five shops to a connected company called BC (NI) at an undervalue.

He also submitted a statement of affairs which the department said was "materially inaccurate".

Mr Bennett also accepted that he had sold the only healthy party of the company, when development had more or less ground to a halt, which led the company with no way to service its debts.

Just five people have been disqualified from acting as company directors for the maximum period of 11 to 15 years since April last year.

A disqualification period of six to 10 years was levelled at 21 others, while 11 were barred for two to five years.

Mr Bennett's disqualification is the longest since 2008, when a man was barred for 15 years.

In a judgment against Edward Smyth (56), of Drumaroad Hill, Castlewellan, a director of A Frames, he was described as "an individual whose attitude to the conduct of business is such that the public requires to be protected from it".

Disqualification is a sanction against those who abuse the protections of limited liability.

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