Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hanover funds freeze crushes a sick boy's dream

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'It's my son's trust fund'
By KERRY WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post | Friday, 25 July 2008

JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post

BROKEN PROMISE: Benjamin Pak was dying of leukaemia when mum Jacqui told him she would take him to Australia if he could pull through. But Hanover Finance's move to freeze investor's money crushed that dream.

Benjamin Pak was dying of leukaemia when his mum told him she would take him on a trip to the Gold Coast - if he could just pull through.

He beat the odds and is in remission, and next year Jacqui Clark was going to keep her promise to her 13-year-old son.

But that dream has been shattered by Hanover Finance's move to freeze investors' money, including Benjamin's $9000 trust fund.

"I promised him when he was sick in hospital - he was dying at that point, he hadn't eaten in three weeks - that if he could just get himself better and eat, I would take him on that trip," Ms Clark said.

"We were going to go next year. He was really excited. I really don't hold any faith in getting that money back now. It's sad."

Ms Clark, of west Auckland, is one of 14,500 people who invested more than $500 million in the company run by entrepreneurs Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin.

It is the third-largest privately owned finance firm in New Zealand - and the latest casualty of the finance-company-sector meltdown.

Yesterday the Commerce Commission said it had begun an investigation into the company.

Investors face a nervous three-week wait to see how much money they will get back.

Benjamin - after 3½ years of chemotherapy - has been in remission for the past four years.

Ms Clark first invested her son's trust fund with the company about five years ago. She re-invested it for another 30 days just last week, assured by a staff member that her son's money would be safe.

"It is not my money, it is my son's. We are mortgaged up to the eyeballs and this was going to give him that little bit of happiness," she said yesterday.

"This is what we've been focusing on, a promise I made years ago. And it looks like it's gone."

Hanover's troubles are a double blow to Ms Clark's family. Her 75-year-old mother invested close to $38,000, almost all her life savings. She is in hospital recovering from hip surgery.

"Poor old Mum, she is going to get out of hospital to think she's just got nothing."

Ms Clark has tried to explain the situation to her son, naturally disappointed his dream trip to the Gold Coast is in limbo.

"The sad thing is, Benjamin has said to me all these years, 'I'd love to have this, I'd love to have that'. I always said, 'You can't, this money is for later on'. It's a risk, but I thought it was a careful risk."

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