Former Coles Executive Admits $1.9 Million Fraud

Former Coles Executive Admits $1.9 Million Fraud
Pedestrians walk past a Coles supermarket in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 24, 2022. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

A former Coles executive has admitted stealing $1.9 million (US$1.29 million) from the national supermarket giant, but a judge said his offending was so inexplicable and stupid he must undergo further psychiatric testing.

County Court Judge Duncan Allen expressed shock that Aaron Baslangic never tried to cover his tracks, had no grand plans about what to do with the funds and most of it was left languishing in a bank account until he was caught.

As a finance executive at Coles Online, Baslangic could authorise payments up to $75,000 and, in early 2019, orchestrated 14 illegal payments.

They ranged from $10,000 to more than $400,000, and when payments were above his approved limit, he altered emails to make it appear his supervisor approved the transfers.

Most of the payments involved fictitious businesses with a bank account in his name while others involved sending money to the Australian Taxation Office, which was then redirected into his own accounts.

He also transferred money to real estate agents he rented property through, to a BMW dealership to pay off his leased car and to the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

He spent about $200,000 shopping at luxury retailers Jimmy Choo, Cartier, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and other shops.

On June 14, he pleaded guilty to two charges of obtaining property by deception, financial advantage by deception and making a false document.

Baslangic appeared in court via video link dressed in prison greens and spent most of the hearing with his head bowed or in his hands.

He has already paid back his former employer more than $1.3 million.

Judge Allen said Baslangic’s conduct was strangely unsophisticated, bizarre and inexplicable.

“Brazen, that’s one word for it; the other word is incredibly stupid,” he said.

“A year 12 student could have worked out where this money was going.”

The court heard he came from an educated family in Turkey—his dad was a journalist, and his mum worked in a bank.

Baslangic had an electronic engineering degree and earned a master of business administration after immigrating to Australia.

At the time of his offending, his wife suffered from a degenerative disease that left her so unwell she couldn’t work, and Baslangic said their relationship was breaking down.

The court heard he had some mental health issues, but Judge Allen expressed shock at what he described as strangely unsophisticated conduct that was bound to be detected.

He ordered Baslangic to undergo further psychiatric testing to see if a professional could shed light on the reasons behind his crime and the state of his mental health.

The case will return to court on August 9.

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