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Iliopoulos lashes bank over Viking failure

Commonwealth Bank appointment of receivers but not managers spooked customers says former boss

By Rob McKay | May 20, 2011

Former Viking director Steve Iliopoulos has hit out at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) over the receivership of his trucking firm Viking Group.

Iliopoulos, who says he is now a “consultant” to the firm, was also critical of the appointment of McGrathNicol as receivers solely, rather than as managers as well, saying the set-up was confusing, had undermined the confidence of customers and employees and had made running the group’s various companies all but impossible.

This lack of confidence had meant customers had withdrawn or held off payment, either to Viking or the bank, he says.

“I suppose the lesson I always knew was ‘don’t trust banks’,” Iliopoulos says, before adding that the situation was more complex than such a ‘one-liner’ could convey.

Despite finance industry speculation that CBA had a $58 million exposure to Viking, Westpac $20 million and National Australia Bank (NAB) $8 million, Iliopoulos insists that Viking had been a business turning over $100 million a year that it had been running smoothly.

“There were no financiers out of pocket – everything was up to date,” he says.

He says its difficulties started with a “clash of personalities” and that the CBA had given Viking management less than a week’s notice that action would be taken against it.

The CBA has taken control of its Viking bank accounts and last month froze Viking’s account at NAB.

On the reason for the move, Iliopoulos says “nobody knows yet”.

“[Since] this has happened, we have had no contact with McGrathNicols at all,” he says.

“We were in the process of moving banks, which could have been one of the things that set it off.

“We were in the process of purchasing another company, so [our] company was going along not too bad.”

He pointed to a lack of Viking vehicles going to auction, saying that this was due to them having been paid for.

“So what they have done is to basically starve us of cash,” Iliopoulos says.

“Not to have a look at the company, not worried about what 300 people are going to do for a job, not worried about nothing.

“It was more ‘how much cash can we drag in” and we’ll worry about that later.”

Iliopoulos says operations had been reduced from 300 people to 40-50 but freeze orders on its operating accounts had made running a smaller business “very, very, very, very hard”.

ATN calls to McGrathNicol regarding Viking have not been returned and no comment has been forthcoming from CBA, NAB or Westpac.

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