Perth-based online PC seller Info4pc.com appeared in Federal Court yesterday to answer injunctions sought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) regarding questionable trading and the transfer of company funds to Spanish bank accounts.
Info4pc general manager James Rae has been ordered to hand over his passport, refrain from selling personal or company assets and refrain from accessing company funds.
These injunctions are in addition to existing orders issued in January by an Adelaide Federal Court which block the retailer from advertising, taking customer orders on computers and upgrades, and paying wages to management. The Adelaide Court found that the company had failed to deliver on its promise to provide cheap PCs to approximately 3000 consumers.
The recent injunctions were sought by the ACCC after it was revealed that Info4pc.com transferred $190,000 on December 29, 2000, to a bank account in Spain registered to the name T.J Rae, which is believed to be the name of the Info4pc general manager's brother.
A further transfer of funds occurred on January 1, 2001, to a Spanish bank account registered to Info4pc.com. It is understood the account belongs to one Johnson Williamson, the director of similar UK and Canadian schemes that dissolved in late 2000 and left thousands of consumers out of pocket. In mid-February Info4pc had a mere $16,000 left in the bank, according to the ACCC.
The consumer watchdog is examining if the fund transfers are in contempt of court. It also considered seeking injunctions to freeze personal bank accounts belonging to certain individuals related to Info4pc, in an effort to shore up funds in the event of the company folding.
Further concerns have been raised regarding the payment of funds to company management. According to the ACCC, Info4pc staff received double their weekly wages via cheque, which they cashed and returned in part to Rae.
A directional hearing has been scheduled for March 1, however, the ACCC says it could be up to 12 months before the issue is resolved.
Info4pc.com.au began trading in October last year, offering basic computer packages at $299. This price was later raised to $499 but, to offset the low price, buyers agreed to provide personal lifestyle information by completing a questionnaire every month for two years. This information was then collated and sold as market research.
The ACCC says the computers cost the retailer $1250 and that income from the sales of market information would be inadequate to meet this cost. The ACCC alleges more than 3000 consumers have already paid for their computers, with most yet to receive the goods.
James Rae was unavailable for comment.