Toshiba allays creditor fears over Portables Plus debt hiccup

An application by Toshiba (Australia) Pty Ltd to put Portables Plus into liquidation was halted just two weeks before it was scheduled to be heard in the Auckland High Court.

After a hearing set for 28 January was adjourned, the matter was rescheduled to proceed on 18 February. However, on 5 February, Toshiba filed a notice of discontinuance, indicating the matter has since been resolved.

Because the application might potentially have resulted in Portables Plus’ liquidation, the hearing still had to be called in an open court, giving any further creditors an opportunity to express a financial interest, courts civil jurisdiction media inquiries spokesperson Nana Matenga told Reseller News.

No other creditors made themselves known at the 18 February hearing and the judge discontinued the matter.

Tony Fitzgerald, managing director of Portables Plus says the amount owed to Toshiba was paid in full last November. “We went back to them with payment and Toshiba’s legal department didn’t pass that information on,” claims Fitzgerald.

He says the notice related to a small amount of money, although neither he nor Toshiba will reveal how much. “It wasn’t even a huge amount, it was just a dispute over something which was quite tragic, and I’m not going to say what was behind it. There were some circumstances around the issue which we’d prefer not to give publicity to – nothing sinister, just something personal.”

Fitzgerald could not be persuaded to provide further details on that personal issue, other than to say it relates to a former employee. He attributes the delay in resolving the matter to the silly season.

“Christmas seemed to get in the way from their [Toshiba’s] lawyer’s perspective and nothing was withdrawn from the court system, unfortunately – something which has embarrassed both the Portables Plus board and Toshiba.”

Because of potential concerns among Portables Plus’ suppliers after the notice was filed in the Mercantile Gazette and on the New Zealand Gazette website, says Fitzgerald, Toshiba tried to allay fears once the debt had been settled. “Toshiba Australia wrote to our other creditors and rang them and said it wasn’t an issue. It was a bit of a mix-up and it shouldn’t have come to that.”

Filing an application to wind up a company under the Companies Act, once called a 218 Notice (now a section 289 statutory demand) costs plaintiffs $400. However, additional creditors may apply to be party to the same application even if a notice of discontinuance is filed.

For a creditor the advantage of the statutory demand is that if the company doesn’t pay the amount demanded within 15 working days it can move to wind up the company, as Toshiba originally filed to do in the case of Portables Plus. Because companies rarely place themselves at risk of being wound up, they generally pay the debt owing once a section 289 statutory demand is filed.

The relationship between Portables Plus and Toshiba remains healthy, Fitzgerald maintains. “We’ve been with them for many, many years, and this is just an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

Gary Wicks, Toshiba’s New Zealand country manager, says he can’t talk about individual payments owed by resellers, but agrees that as far as Toshiba is concerned the matter is closed and hasn’t compromised the two companies’ trading relationship. “Portables Plus has been a long-term partner of Toshiba’s, they’re still a very valued partner. We’re still trading with them today. It’s all going ahead at the moment, everything’s good.”

It is unclear why Toshiba found it necessary to resort to this uncompromising approach in recovering the money owing to it. Fitzgerald puts it down to the current economic climate and companies reacting more diligently than they otherwise might.

Wicks, meanwhile, dismisses it as a simple credit matter. “It’s the usual procedure; it depends where you are in the process of credit collection. It was at that stage. There’s a process the company goes through, that went through our accounts department and the matter was resolved. The court process carries on, though, whether we like it or not.”

Although he says he knows how much money is involved, Wicks won’t reveal the amount, adding that the filing of such notices is simply a reality of doing business. “It’s just one of those things in trading that happens once in a while.”

Portables Plus is a privately owned New Zealand company. It describes itself on its website as “New Zealand’s largest specialised mobile computing company”. It was founded in 1992 and started out as a supplier of laptops to schools and businesses. Among other industry accreditations, Portables Plus lists itself as a Toshiba Mobile Plus Partner.

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