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Specialty Fashion

Retailers Clive Peeters and Specialty Fashion have been the victims of frauds totalling nearly $20 million each. The companies are trying to recover the money through the courts, but experts say the losses should never have happened.

NEAL WOOLRICH, REPORTER: It's a memorable advertising slogan that might now be haunting the company for the wrong reasons.

For 38yearold Sonya Causer, taking nearly $20 million from Clive Peeters was all too easy. Mrs Causer was employed as a senior accountant at the electrical retailer from March 2006. She started transferring company money into her own bank accounts in July 2007, using the funds to buy 43 properties in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, and this car in a charity auction.

SHAUN MANUELL, EQUITY TRUSTEES: Unfortunately it does happen. Woolrich Clothing I suppose in the example of Clive Peeters it was really the extent of it $20 million. It was pretty well close to the company's, sort of, annual profit. So it was material, and it was surprising that it actually occurred.

NEAL WOOLRICH: Clive Peeters is taking civil action to recover the property from Sonya Causer, and says the question of criminal charges is a matter for police.

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Managing director Greg Smith says the matter is now the subject of an internal review but refused to be drawn on whether the problem should have been detected earlier.

The firm's forensic accountant says Mrs Causer's deception was highly sophisticated. But Equity Trustee's Shaun Manuell says senior management should accept responsibility for the incident.

SHAUN MANUELL: There'll be a lot of soul searching within Woolrich jacket Clive Peeters and amongst the auditors look at the size relative to the business you would have thought it would have been picked up earlier.

NEAL WOOLRICH: Specialty Fashion Group, owning several chains, including Katies and Millers Retail, is another company grappling with a multimillion dollar fraud. In May, the group revealed $16 million was falsely charged over four or five years. Specialty Fashion's former head of property Simon Feldman has been ordered by the NSW Supreme Court to repay the money.

Forensic accountant Darryl Swindells says deceptions like these are uncovered by chance and could have been prevented.

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DARRYL SWINDELLS, HLB MANN JUDD: Most of the frauds are not sophisticated, they are simple. It's a matter of someone falsifying an invoice. Most organisations know that you should have controls over such things as how you make a payment.

NEAL WOOLRICH: He says companies must closely scrutinise costs and ask questions if expenses seem to be going up by more than what is reasonable.

DARRYL SWINDELLS: If companies are in a growth phase,Woolrich elite and the principals in the business are really looking at the growth than making sure they are counting what is happening behind them that leaves it open for people to take money out of the business and it not be found.

NEAL WOOLRICH: Corporate governance adviser Erik Mather says governance issues are too often ignored by investors and companies.

ERIK MATHER, REGNAN MD: Only 4 per cent, so that's one in 25 companies actually provide evidence that those aspects of ethics that they obviously have policies on, tie into remuneration practices.

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NEAL WOOLRICH: And he says studies into corporate governance failings show a good news culture, where bad news is swept under the carpet can be counterproductive.

ERIK MATHER: Over time it's impossible to hide poor governance of ethics, and that's what we see. Woolrich coats As boring as it may be, ethics is a 24/7 consideration, in the same way as we take out insurance for our property.

NEAL WOOLRICH: It's unclear how much money Simon Feldman can repay to Specialty Fashion. However, if there is a silver for Clive Peeters, it's that their money was invested in property, so most, if not all, should be recovered.

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