Slater & Gordon is currently investigating a possible class action on behalf of jilted borrowers of Bankwest, who claim the bank was hasty in calling in its debts when it was taken over by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) in 2008.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Slaters project litigation lawyer Van Moulis said that his four-member team would conduct its side of due diligence from Sydney over the next two to three months, with litigation funders IMF Australia doing the bulk of the face to face interviews in Perth.
“We have a team of four lawyers working on it, so we are taking this quite seriously because it has merit,” said Moulis. “IMF is in Western Australia [it has an office in Perth], so they are covering the ground over there.
“I do have an office over there [Slaters has an office in Perth], so from time to time I am likely to be there, but right now – I don’t have any immediate plans to get to Perth.”
Moulis said the final decision on whether Slaters will give the green light to launching formal court proceeding would be heavily reliant on the outcome of the Senate inquiry into the methods by which banks place companies into receivership.
He said that if a class action was launched, it would “conservatively” have around 150 members, many of whom lost millions after Bankwest called in numerous debts in the wake of its acquisition by the CBA.
“This is a really a question of the group receiving assurances from Bankwest that the bank would help them get them through the GFC,” said Moulis. “Then the CBA came in and those [property] developments, which would have otherwise been successful, according to my clients, they were just destroyed.”
In December 2008, the CBA purchased Bankwest for $2.1 billion.
On 9 April, the ABC program Four Corners interviewed a number of people that were borrowers and mortgagors of Bankwest. The disgruntled borrowers featured on the program and members of the Unhappy Banking group, which consists of many former customers of Bankwest, claim that they lost businesses and had loans terminated after Bankwest conducted an audit of loans following its sale to the CBA.
This is not the first stoush involving Slaters and the CBA.
In February 2010, the plaintiff law firm and the bank finalised an agreement that brought compensation to victims of the Storm Financial collapse.
“We received a lot of publicity for the work involving Storm,” said Moulis. “We brokered an agreement with a number of banks that resulted in a pioneering dispute resolution scheme to avoid court action.
“Unfortunately, a number of other banks involved in the Storm Financial matter see things differently.”