Corporate titan Sir Ron Brierley charged over child abuse material
It was early August when the anonymous tipster first got in touch with NSW Police.
Officers might like to take a look at Point Piper resident Sir Ron Brierley, a recently retired corporate titan who made his reputation in Australia and New Zealand targeting poorly run and undervalued companies, the member of the public said.
A financial obsessive who built a fearsome reputation as a corporate raider in the 1980s, Sir Ron is regarded as business royalty in his native New Zealand. He was knighted in 1988. He chaired the Bank of New Zealand.
In his adopted Australia, his portrait has hung in the National Portrait Gallery since 2001. He is a former board member of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust. He was worth nearly $200 million as long ago as the late 1980s.
But after a glittering corporate career, Sir Ron’s reputation is in jeopardy after he was dramatically arrested early on Tuesday morning, allegedly in possession of more than 200,000 images and 512 videos that police allege are consistent with child abuse.
As he arrived at Sydney Airport at 6:30am to board a flight to Fiji, Sir Ron had no idea investigators had flagged his passport to track his movements.
Australian Border Force officials detained him at the airport, police said on Wednesday, and detectives searched his carry-on bags and seized his laptop and electronic storage units.
“The man’s carry-on luggage was searched before the contents of his laptop and electronic storage devices were reviewed, which are alleged to have contained large amounts of child abuse material,” NSW Police said in a statement.
Asked about the nature of the imagery, one senior police source said a sample of the material set to be forensically examined was allegedly “consistent with child abuse material”.
Police also were granted a warrant to search Sir Ron’s Point Piper home. Following his arrest, he was taken to Mascot Police station and charged with six counts of possessing child abuse material.
He was granted conditional bail to appear at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on February 10, police confirmed on Wednesday.
Nobody answered the door at the Wunulla Road mansion Sir Ron has owned for almost 30 years after news of his arrest broke on Wednesday, with the city’s media camped outside his home.
In his prime, Sir Ron was one of the most feared and respected figures in the corporate world, renowned for his aggressive financial raids on Australian companies.
A renowned stamp collector, Sir Ron launched into business while still a schoolboy at Wellington College in the early 1950s, operating The Kiwi Stamp Company during lunch from his desk.
His first foray into investing came when he began publishing a share market tip sheet, New Zealand Stocks and Shares, ultimately leading him to form R A Brierley Investments in 1961.
He emigrated to Australia in the 1980s where he rose to prominence with his company Industrial Equity Limited (IEL), analysing often-overlooked assets like property and using legal loopholes to force mergers.
Over the decades, through IEL and the vehicle that followed it, Guinness Peat Group (GPG), Sir Ron mounted raids on companies as diverse as Carlton United Breweries, energy company AGL, lottery operator Tatts and home builder AV Jennings.
Dubbed an “asset stripper” for his ability to buy companies cheap and sell off their assets to make a profit, he turned Brierley Investments into a top 20 company on the New Zealand stock market, and by 1984 was the most valuable company on the market.
By early 1987 with investments in more than 300 companies worldwide, he controlled the third-largest company on the ASX – bigger than the banks.
In the late 1990s he sold a 24 per cent stake in Fairfax Holdings, the publisher of the Herald and The Age newspapers.
With corporate sidekick Gary Weiss by his side for more than two decades, Sir Ron would use GPG as his corporate vehicle from 1990 to build a business empire in Britain, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. In his last appearance in Australia’s annual rich lists in 2007 he featured with a $150 million fortune, before the rise of property and tech titans overtook him. His most recent corporate foray before retiring this year was an unsuccessful takeover bid of Mark Bouris’s financial firm Yellow Brick Road.
Outside business, Sir Ron was made lifetime member of Wellington Cricket in 2000. The Basin Reserve also boasted a Brierley Pavilion, which has since been demolished to make way for a children’s playground and terrace seating.
He is a friend of broadcaster and fellow cricket fan Sir Michael Parkinson. He would often be spotted enjoying a dip at Double Bay’s Redleaf pool in Sydney’s east and for years owned a 100-foot luxury boat, Lionheart.
Sir Ron is patron of Auckland Cricket Development Foundation and his former high school, Wellington College has named its arts block and football field after him.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told New Zealand media: “It would not be appropriate for the prime minister to comment on the possible forfeiture of honours at this stage”.
In New Zealand, knighthoods can be stripped from those found to have damaged the honours system’s reputation.
Earlier this year, the first scholarship in his name was given for cricket players from regional and rural Australia.
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