THE corporate regulator, Tony D’Aloisio, bought a Yarra Valley winery from a distressed public company seven months after his appointment as chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Details of the purchase, however, were never made public. The commission granted a special exemption to financial reporting requested by Ferrier Hodgson, administrator to the collapsed wine group Evans & Tate.

That exemption was granted just 39 days after administrators were appointed on August 21, 2007, and less than three months before the Oakridge winery was sold to Mr D’Aloisio and his wife Ilana Atlas. There is no suggestion Mr D’Aloisio was involved in granting the exemption order issued by ASIC.

It is unclear how much the couple paid for the business, as the 2007 accounts for Evans & Tate were never compiled and discrepancies have emerged between those lodged in later years and those before the administration. Creditors and shareholders of the failed company were not told of Mr D’Aloisio’s involvement in the purchase of their assets.

The special exemption is understood to be the first time ASIC has granted such a request in such hurried circumstances. The next shortest period for such relief to be granted to a listed company was 97 days.

Mr D’Aloisio and Ms Atlas acquired the winery on December 19, 2007.

Jeffrey Knapp, an academic at the University of NSW, said while there might be no mischief in the ASIC chairman acquiring an asset from a listed company in distress, the deal raised issues about independence.

”It looks bad when ASIC issues an unusual exemption in the early days of the company’s administration, the company subsequently loses its financial records and then releases an annual report that is not true and fair and not in accordance with accounting standards,” Mr Knapp said. ”The chairman of ASIC not only needs to act in manner consistent with actual independence but should be seen to be independent by members of the general public.”

In response to questions from the Herald, ASIC special counsel, Stephen Yen, said that Mr D’Aloisio had not been involved in granting the reporting waiver to Ferrier Hodgson.