Supreme Court of Canada orders trial in long-standing Hickman Equipment fraud case

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It appears the longest running fraud case in Newfoundland and Labrador's history will go to trial after all.

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has ruled the men at the centre of the multi-million dollar Hickman Equipment scandal should have to face a judge.

The highest court in the country ordered a trial by overturning a decision of the provincial Court of Appeal.

That court had upheld a decision by Supreme Court of Newfoundland trial division that the 10 years it took to investigate and lay charges against four former managers of the company was an egregious violation of their rights.

The investigation started in March 2002.

In 2012, general manager Hubert Hunt, vice-president of sales William Parsons, chief financial officer Gary Hillyard and sales manager John King, were each charged with 16 fraud-related offences, including falsifying books and documents.

Losses to creditors amounted to $100 million. 

"[They] were charged with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, falsifying books and documents, and circulating a false prospectus," wrote the SCC in its summary of the case.

"It is alleged that their business sold or transferred equipment that had been used to secure loans without informing or paying the creditors and falsified documents and the books."

Complicated case

In the November 2016 ruling from the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal, two judges agreed with Justice Carl Thompson.

But Justice Lois Hoegg dissented, saying while a 10-year investigation is a long time, it was necessary because this was a complicated case involving an incredible amount of material.

Hoegg said that Crown misconduct would be a reason to stay the charges, but not the length of the investigation.

She wrote: "Such a result rewards sophisticated criminal conduct, and effectively imposes a judicially determined limitation period on charges which take a long time to investigate simply because it is too difficult, time consuming, and/or expensive to do so."

So, the Crown appealed to the SCC, which agreed with Hoegg.

The case was originally slated for a six-month trial beginning in January 2015.

Now, the Crown will have to go back to the trial division of the Supreme Court of N.L. to get new dates.