Coles claims former employee stole $1.9 million

Coles is suing a former employee for allegedly stealing more than $1.9 million from the company.

The supermarket claims that Aaron Baslangic, former head of strategic initiatives and B2B for Coles Online, submitted phoney invoices requesting payment to third parties, and in some cases faked the approval of his supervisor for payments that were above his authority limit.

In documents filed with the Supreme Court of Victoria over the past two weeks, the supermarket said it has identified 13 questionable payments made to BMW Australia, the Australian Taxation Office and other businesses from February to June of this year.

The amounts range from $48,000 to $413,139. More than $1.5 million was paid to a business called Katana Services, whose assets were frozen by the Victorian Supreme Court on July 30, alongside Baslangic’s assets.

Coles said it first discovered the questionable transactions during a review of payments prior to its migration to a new platform.

“Irregularities were detected by our internal finance checks and we promptly obtained a freezing order from the Victorian Supreme Court,” a spokesperson for Coles told Inside FMCG.

The transactions caught the eye of Coles’ finance team because some were unsupported by invoices, some were supported by invoices sent from a personal email address for Baslangic and some were for amounts above Baslangic’s authority limit.

Five of the 13 payments were for more than $75,000, which was Baslangic’s personal authority limit. Payments above this amount required the approval of his line manager Karen Donaldson, general manager of Coles Online.

But while the accounts team received emails from Baslangic indicating Donaldson’s approval, Donaldson said in an affidavit that she had no prior knowledge of those emails and did not approve the payments.

Cameron Newell, head of corporate business protection for Coles Online, said in an affidavit that he could find no emails from Baslangic to Donaldson requesting approval, or from Donaldson to Baslangic granting it, suggesting that Baslangic faked his supervisor’s go-ahead.

Donaldson said she has worked closely with Baslangic since February 2017, when he was employed by Coles’ finance team and worked as a senior finance business partner with Coles Online. He was appointed head of strategic initiatives and B2B for Coles online on July 1.

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