June 3, 2016 – 7:28PM
Michaela Whitbourn and Michael Evans
As the final act of one of Australia’s biggest insider trading scandals came to a climax in the NSW Supreme Court this week, the school motto of St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, offered an ironic reminder of fortunes strived for, gained – and spectacularly lost.
Quantum potes, tantum aude – Dare to do as much as you can.
Oliver Curtis leaving St James Supreme Court after being found guilty of insider trading. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Oliver Curtis and John Hartman, young bankers and childhood best friends who met at the exclusive north shore high school, were risk-takers whose daring would change the course of their lives.
They took a gamble when only “just adults”, in the words of Crown prosecutor David Staehli, SC. The result, as Curtis’s defence counsel had it, was a “Greek tragedy” of sorts, as friendships were torn apart.
At the height of their scam Hartman and Curtis were making hundreds of thousands of dollars using risky financial products known as contracts for difference to bet on shifts in share prices.
Oliver Curtis and his wife Roxy Jacenko arriving at his trial in the Supreme Court in Sydney. Photo: Daniel Munoz
Less risky, of course, when you are exploiting inside information to bet on a sure thing. But the duo knew, in the words of Hartman, they would be “in a lot of shit” if their dealings were detected. It had become “almost a bit of a game, in a sense”.
For a time, the game and the lure of profits was irresistible. “Slam any bid,” Curtis urged his broker in taped telephone calls recording the trades at the centre of the trial.
“Be aggressive?” his broker queried in another call.
“Yeah, just keep grabbing,” Curtis replied.
The adrenaline was palpable. “Thank Jesus,” Curtis said after he had trouble reaching his broker. “You were scaring me. I don’t have anyone else’s number, I can’t bloody – it fell through the roof.”
The plan, hatched in 2007, was for Hartman to pass on confidential tips from his job as an equities dealer at boutique firm Orion Asset Management. Curtis, then at Transocean Group, would place the trades and the men would split the profits, which totalled $1.43 million in a year.
The pair would ramp up their trading before splurging on luxury expenses, including a year’s upfront rent on a $3000-a-week Bondi pad and a luxury holiday to Whistler and Las Vegas.
But on Thursday the game was over. Curtis, a 30-year-old father of two and husband of Sydney publicist Roxy Jacenko, was found guilty of insider trading by a jury and faces up to five years in prison. Hartman, also 30, has already served 15 months behind bars after pleading guilty to a string of insider trading offences that made him millions.
Theirs is a simple morality play of privilege, greed and wasted opportunity as two young men from wealthy families acted with seeming impunity as they profited from inside information.
But it’s also a story of two families, brought together through childhood friendship, and pulled apart as their crimes were exposed. John would become the prosecution’s star witness against his former best friend.
When John tearfully confessed to his father, Keith, a prominent north shore obstetrician, it was the latest in a series of dramas for the family.
Dr Hartman has been an obstetrics institution on the lower north shore for decades where he runs a successful practice at the Mater Hospital in Crows Nest.
He was little known outside the medical fraternity until Sarah Murdoch, the supermodel wife of media scion Lachlan, was linked to his care. The tag “obstetrician to the stars” quickly stuck when Erica Packer, then wife of billionaire James, and Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman also frequented his waiting room.
Those forays into the public eye hid two decades of family drama marked with achievement and tragedy for the father of six and wife Kerry-Anne.
One son, Luke, has achieved enormous success in business, setting up property company Metro Property Development and is estimated to be worth nearly $100 million in the BRW Young Rich List.
Another son, Alex was a prodigious teen technology talent who made front page news in 1997 when signed a million dollar deal with Telstra to sell them his internet software.
Alex, who would trade emails with the likes of Bill Gates, would become a Young Australian of the Year for career achievement. But after a bipolar diagnosis, his father revealed he was scheduled for his own safety after terrifying incidents in the family home. Alex, whose LinkedIn account shows him with foreign minister Julie Bishop beneath the Eiffel Tower, has since rebuilt his business career and now runs ASX-listed technology publishing company Newzulu.
Another son, Edward, resigned from investment bank UBS after Curtis’ committal hearing. The court heard he and John considered rigging a horse race using an innocent friend’s name in exchange for a few lap dances.
For his part, John has acknowledged his career in financial markets is almost certainly over. These days, he lives and works in Perth with his wife and now a young child. He works for mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s philanthropic organisation, Minderoo.
Ironically, Hartman snr and Curtis’s father, the businessman Nick Curtis, were linked through the Mater Hospital in 2009 just as a desperate John Hartman began spilling the beans to corporate regulators about his trading after being caught out by his broker.
Nick Curtis, a founding partner of Riverstone Advisory and the executive chairman of rare earths miner Lynas Corp, was chairing the hospital board. Dr Hartman has also been chairman of the hospital’s foundation for 16 years and its most recent annual report pictures him with former patient Sarah Murdoch.
A grim-faced Curtis snr, who gave his son a job after the insider trading charges emerged, appeared in court for much of his son’s 12-day trial. But his presence was overshadowed by his fashion- and publicity-conscious daughter-in-law Jacenko, the founder of public relations firm Sweaty Betty.
When the guilty verdict was read out on Thursday Nick Curtis, accompanied by wife Angela, flinched and bowed his head in the historic St James Supreme Court.
He embraced a tearful Jacenko. Having arrived together every morning of the trial hand in hand, Oliver, who was released on bail pending sentencing , departed the court in the opposite direction to his wife.
The verdict against Curtis marks the culmination of the most significant insider trading case since fallen stockbroker Rene Rivkin who was sentenced in the same court almost 13 years ago to the day.
Authorities have clawed back some of the money the pair made from their trades.
The Federal Police secured an order in 2015 stopping Curtis from spending his share of the proceeds of the sale of a family home.
The corporate regulator froze $1.59 million that was left in Hartman’s account when his own insider trading was discovered – but it was only a fraction of the $5.8 million he made in total.
As for the Hartman and Curtis families, the court heard the two men were “not so friendly now”.
It is a far cry from school days, with the teenaged duo were inseparable. In the light-hearted manner of school year books, one companion wrote of Curtis in his final year that he “will long be remembered for introducing the ‘mullet’ to Riverview”.
But the irony of what another wrote of Hartman is stark: “John has an unusual relationship with his teachers, as he often assumes total power and at times the teachers ended up in more trouble than John did.”
Source : Sydney Morning Herald