90 seconds at 9am: ASB banker who spent NZ$3.4 mln on prostitutes convicted of Ponzi fraud

90 seconds at 9am: ASB banker who spent NZ$3.4 mln on prostitutes convicted of Ponzi fraud
Watch on our video page here click here to go to todays 90-at-Nine video report Watch on YouTube here Bernard Hickey details the key news overnight in 90 seconds at 9am in association with the BNZ, including news that former ASB banker Stephen Versalko has been convicted of fraud and sentenced to 6 years in prison after stealing NZ$18 million from 30 wealthy ASB clients over a 9 year period. Versalko was running a classic Ponzi scheme and hiding it from ASB's systems. He was only found out after a client saw a documentary about New York Ponzi schemester Bernie Madoff and got curious and worried. The client talked to another ASB banker and the fraud was quickly identified. Versalko used the money to buy luxury properties and a portfolio of investment properties. He also spent NZ$3.4 mln on two prostitutes, althought NZ$1.2 million of that was extortion from one of the prostitutes. Meanwhile, he was also using new money being invested to pay the interest on previous money invested -- a classic Ponzi scheme. The NZHerald has more detail here on how the "pathetic creep" stole the money and why his wife was not in court yesterday.
The SFO summary of facts shows that funds were taken from ASB client accounts to Versalko's personal accounts or a "ghost" account created in the name of an existing client. Versalko was able to manipulate the ASB computer system so that none of the transfers were recorded on bank statements. Wayne Kiely, a senior investigator at Paragon New Zealand and a former head of security for New Zealand Post and Kiwibank, was surprised at how long Versalko managed to get away with the fraud. While it can be hard to detect a "cunning operator" like Versalko, Mr Kiely said tighter checks and balances could have prevented the fraud. "That's the big question: If the money went into an ASB account, and they didn't pick it up in an audit, then something is terribly wrong. There also should have been controls in place about employees opening accounts. You can only do something like this if you're in a position of trust."
But how did he get away with it for so long while operating under ASB's noses? How well was he supervised? He called himself 'Mr Invincible'. ASB has repaid clients the lost money and says it has changed its systems to stop a repeat. The full ASB statement is below. Meanwhile, the government is setting up an Australian style Productivity Commission as part of its coalition agreement with ACT. It will cost NZ$5 million to run. Finally, Finance Minister Bill English has signalled tax cuts in the May 20 budget are likely to be smaller than expected because Treasury's forecasts of revenues from property tax tweaks are lower than the Tax Working Group's estimate of NZ$1.3 billion, Radio Live and Radio NZ have reported. ASB statement below.
ASB takes any matters of fraud very seriously and is pleased that the SFO investigation has culminated in Stephen Versalko being sentenced to imprisonment after pleading guilty to his criminal activity. ASB confirms that the fraud involved Mr Versalko transferring funds to make fictitious investments on behalf of customers with whom he had established trusted relationships. Mr Versalko covered his fraudulent activity by paying these customers their anticipated interest and capital repayments. Within hours of concerns being expressed by a customer, Mr Versalko’s offending was confirmed, the matter reported to the SFO and he was dismissed. Only a very small number of customers were affected by Mr Versalko’s offending and all have been reimbursed. We apologise again to these customers who were impacted by his actions. ASB has introduced additional processes and practices to further strengthen our security and protect our customers so that this situation does not happen again.

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