Oliver Curtis and wife Roxy Jacenko arrive at his insider trading trial on Friday. Photo: Daniel MunozInsider trading trial pits ‘good mates’ against each otherOliver Curtis stands trial with wife Roxy Jacenko at his side
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Luxury cars, ski trips, Las Vegas strip joints and “crazy, sick” profits on the share market: alleged insider trading duo Oliver Curtis and John Hartman were on top of the world in 2007.

This week they sat within metres of each other in a Sydney courtroom as Mr Hartman testified against his former best friend in the insider trading trial of the decade.

It is a peculiarly Sydney tale of wealth and privilege – or, as Mr Hartman himself has termed it, of two young bankers “swept up in a fake world” flush with cash.

The St Ignatius College Riverview old boys, who grew up together in Mosman on the lower north shore and later shared a luxury apartment in Bondi, were in their early 20s at the time they allegedly hatched a plan that would change their lives.

Mr Curtis, investment banker and husband of Sydney public relations queen Roxy Jacenko, has pleaded not guilty to an insider trading charge stemming from a deal he allegedly struck with Mr Hartman in 2007 to exploit confidential information to cash in on the share market.

The founder of the Sweaty Betty PR agency, Ms Jacenko has supported her husband in the public gallery and garnered headlines in some quarters for her courtside fashion.

But it is the drama unfolding in the historic St James Supreme Court opposite Sydney’s Hyde Park that has captivated the legal and banking fraternities.

During a three-day stint in the witness box, starting on Wednesday, Mr Hartman told the court he made a “huge mistake” exploiting confidential information he acquired during his job as an equities dealer at Orion Asset Management, a boutique investment firm near Circular Quay.

In a version of events hotly contested by the defence, Mr Hartman said he and “Ollie”, then working at investment banking and corporate advisory firm Transocean Group, agreed to use the information to profit on shifts in share prices by buying and selling so-called contracts for difference.

The pair knew they would be “in a lot of shit” if their dealings were detected by the authorities, Mr Hartman said, but it was “almost a bit of a game in a sense”.

They covered their tracks by communicating on BlackBerry mobile phones using a technique known as “pinning”, he said, which allows messages to be sent without being stored by telecommunications providers.

He would send instructions to Mr Curtis to buy or sell specific contracts and the pair would “share the profits 50-50”, he said. The court has heard the men netted $1.43 million between mid-2007 and 2008.

The profits made by the men were “crazy, it’s sick”, Mr Hartman told the court. On one occasion they made $100,000 in one hit.

Mr Hartman said the proceeds funded the pair’s lavish lifestyle, including an early 2007 trip to Whistler and Las Vegas with a group of friends.

In emails tendered in court Mr Curtis assured their friends a number of perks would be covered at “no charge” to them, including hotel suites and a heli jet to pick them up from the ski resort and take them back to Vancouver “as we will all be very hungover and not enjoy a two-hour drive”.

“On top of this we have a healthy ‘entertainment’ budget on hand for the two nights,” Mr Curtis wrote, posting photos of the logo of Las Vegas strip club Spearmint Rhino and a bottle of champagne.

Mr Hartman told the court their friends would have assumed Mr Curtis was just being generous, adding later he liked to “show off”.

The defence team for Mr Curtis, led by Sydney silk Murugan Thangaraj, does not dispute the trading took place but says there was no illegal deal to cash in on confidential information and split the profits. The existence or otherwise of this deal is the central issue in the trial.

Mr Thangaraj has accused Mr Hartman of turning on his former best friend as part of a deal with authorities to secure himself a lighter jail sentence.

He challenged Mr Hartman’s claim Mr Curtis bought him a $60,000 Mini Cooper and a $20,000 Ducati motorbike as part of their profit-sharing deal, suggesting Mr Curtis was just being generous and had bought the same bike for his father as a birthday present.

Now aged 30, Mr Hartman served 15 months behind bars for insider trading after being caught by his broker in mid-2009 and pleading guilty to a string of charges. He was released in March 2012.

Only some of the charges against Mr Hartman involved trades relating to his alleged deal with Mr Curtis. The court has heard Mr Hartman made $5.8 million from his own insider trading, of which only $1.59 million was seized by the corporate watchdog.

Asked what motivated him at the time, Mr Hartman had a blunt response: “To make money.”

“Whilst it’s all relative, at the time I didn’t have access to a large amount of money … The opportunity to make a lot of money from taking advantage of the information was there,” he said.

The trial continues before Justice Lucy McCallum.

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