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CommBank’s Matt Comyn, ASIC face mal-prosecution claims from Unhappy Banking founder Shannon

by Michael West | Apr 29, 2024 | Finance & Tax, Latest Posts

Bank victims advocate Geoff Shannon is preparing lawsuits against Commonwealth Bank and ASIC for what he claims is a ‘stitch-up’. Michael West reports.

On October 11, 2018, Commonwealth Bank chief executive Matthew Comyn faced a hostile Parliamentary inquiry into the bank’s poor treatment of its customers.

Flanked by his long-term General Counsel, David Cohen, the two top executives of Australia’s biggest bank were grilled over the treatment of a customer Natasha Keys by the now Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neill.

“I’ll just raise a final matter which is that of Tasha Keys … not sure if any of you have had any interaction with Ms Keys but she is a single mum who has lost her farm and, of all the cases that I have heard, this is one where i think probably the worst of the abuse of the law has been instigated …”

Transcript of ASIC case against Geoff Shannon

Transcript of ASIC case against Geoff Shannon

Comyn did not proffer a response. David Cohen did, however: “I don’t know the precise facts of that matter,” Cohen told the assembled MPs.

It was a curious response from the bank’s top lawyer, given that four months earlier, Natasha Keys had met with Matt Comyn to talk about a settlement in her case against the bank. Indeed, she gave this precise evidence as the star witness for ASIC in its failed court action against bank advocate Geoff Shannon last year:

“I first met with Matt Comyn at … the Royal Commission … and then I met with Matt Comyn and his couple of offsiders … in Sydney not long before that, June 2018.

It is even more curious that the bank executives would disavow any knowledge of the facts of the Keys matter given that Keys had been working for Geoff Shannon in Shannon’s Unhappy Banking franchise for years until 2015, and Shannon had been a thorn in the side of CBA for the prior ten years, being a vocal public critic of the bank, fighting them in the courts, and winning settlements for CBA customers who had run into trouble with their loans.

An extraordinarily curious response, one might surmise, given that Shannon had also lodged complaints with the NSW Law Society about David Cohen, as well as filing a complaint to the Banking Royal Commission in July that year critical of Cohen’s dealings with class action lawyers in the Storm Financial Group collapse. The Storm settlement was also Matt Comyn’s baby at the time.

In fact, Geoff Shannon had also lodged a complaint with the NSW Office of the Legal Services Commissioner about David Cohen in 2015. The two men, Shannon and Cohen, had been long-time acrimonious banking adversaries, with the CBA managing to have Shannon bankrupted in 2013.

The bankruptcy of the former motorbike rider and property developer had laid the seeds for the disastrous action by regulator ASIC against Shannon last year. ASIC, armed with the testimony of none other than Shannon’s former work colleague Keys, had tried to put Shannon behind bars for acting as a company director while bankrupt.

Shannon won the case emphatically, with the judge finding Keys to be an “unreliable” witness and “not a witness of credit”. 

Nice work if you can get it

But here is the thing. Comyn had not only agreed to wipe out her loan with the bank after years of suing her, but he also agreed to pay her $310,000 and even wipe out her credit card debt. The final settlement was struck just a few weeks after the Parliamentary committee hearing (although discussions appear to have been going on since May or June).

CBA Deed of Settlement with Natasha Keys

CBA Deed of Settlement with Natasha Keys

Then, at some point in the next couple of years, it appears Keys agreed to be ASIC’s witness in the case against Shannon, providing the regulators with 16000 emails sourced from the time she had worked with him.

Now Shannon is gearing up to sue ASIC for wrongful prosecution and the CBA for collusion and damage to his reputation. 

On March 27, Shannon won his cost order claim against the ASIC. What is interesting he says, is the findings regarding his trustee in bankruptcy Nicole Greentree.

“Ms Greentree, who had the day-to-day carriage of the administration of my bankruptcy, had not been contacted by ASIC’s Investigator Nathan Miller (for the case), nor was there any attempt to take a statement from or interview her. 

“Her evidence may well have impacted upon the proceeding being commenced or continuing.”

As for the 16,000 documents provided by Keys to ASIC, “it would seem clear the investigator did not thoroughly consider the material that was provided to him before commencing proceedings. 

“If he had, he may well have been alive to the issues surrounding Ms Keys credit and reliability. Ms Keys was ASIC’s principal prosecution witness who was found to be unreliable and not a witness of credit.”

“Mr Shannon did not bring suspicion upon himself,” the judge found. “Mr Shannon participated in an electronically recorded interview before being charged and offered a version, including Ms Greentree’s details. As I previously indicated, this was not investigated.

“Having considered these factors, I am of the view that it is proper to make a costs order.” 

“Hi Babe” Case: ASIC witnesses mauled in court, Commbank embarrassed, evidence ends abruptly

Ructions at the regulator

It can now be revealed that just three weeks out from the commencement of the ASIC trial on October 7, 2022, the outgoing CEO of ASIC Mr Warren Day requested ASIC Investigator Mr Joe Zubcic to call Mr Shannon directly and not through his lawyers. 

“ASIC was pleading with me not to defend the prosecution – which was to commence on October 2022.” 

So where to from here for Shannon?

In September 2023, well before Shannon’s not guilty verdict was handed down in Queensland, Shannon reached out to the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) and made an official complaint against ASIC and various officers, including outgoing CEO of ASIC Mr Warren Day, based on evidence obtained under cross-examination of Natasha Keys.

The complaint is being investigated, he says. Mr Day has since left ASIC, and Shannon’s lawyers are investigating claims of malicious prosecution against the regulator, as well as a claim against the CBA and Natasha Keys.

“I’m also assisting others who have been wrongly prosecuted including Clive Palmer, who is being pursued over two transactions – Palmer had also obtained expert legal advice in respect of the two transactions ASIC have charged him with”. 

Shannon’s legal team have confirmed proceedings will be filed soon, including possible charges against Matt Comyn. 

“We have been waiting on the recent findings in the costs decision against ASIC to enable his legal team to finalise the claim against Commbank, Matt Comyn and no doubt Natasha Keys. 

Questions were put to Matt Comyn for this story and any response will be appended if the bank chooses to respond. In the testimony before the Committee David Cohen did say he would be happy to come back to the Committee with responses. The Minister Claire O’Neill (then in Opposition) had questioned what the bank was doing spending almost $1m fighting Ms Key’s claim for a loan which was originally sized at just $200,000. O’Neill has also been approached for comment.

The Shannon imbroglio adds to ASIC’s woes, including adverse findings from the inquiry brought by Senator Bragg and revelations that another ASIC commissioner had had significant contact with a hedge fund manager.

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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