Lark Distilling CEO resigns over extortion video

Geoff Bainbridge has resigned as CEO of Lark Distilling following the release of a video that allegedly shows him involved in drug use during a sex act.

The Australian has published explicit details and images from the video, which is believed to be part of an extortion attempt and pre-dates his appointment at Lark Distilling.

The board of Lark announced on Wednesday that Bainbridge had “tendered his resignation effective immediately to enable him to manage a personal matter … brought to the attention of the board”.

Lark non-executive director and former Bellamy’s CEO Laura McBain will lead the company on an interim basis.

Bainbridge was the co-founder of burger chain Grill’d and previously held a senior position at Foster’s Group, now known as Carlton & United Breweries.

In a statement he said: “I attended a gathering with people I didn’t know and don’t remember much more about that night. However, the next morning I was played footage which made it clear I had been set up as part of a shakedown.

“Following the incident, due to this captured content I have been the subject of a sophisticated, continuing and recently escalated extortion.

“Ultimately, I put myself in a situation I shouldn’t have been in. I’m a victim of extortion, but that wouldn’t have occurred without my poor judgment. I am deeply remorseful for my own actions.”

When contacted by The Australian for comment, lawyers acting for Bainbridge said the video had been used by overseas-based criminals in an attempt to extort him for money.

Bainbridge claimed to the Nine Network that he had a big night overseas in December 2015 after meeting a woman in a bar and others at a party. He said he made 14 payments totalling $9000 over the subsequent years following the extortion attempt.

Bainbridge is the fourth-largest shareholder of Lark Distillery, with his 5% stake worth $17 million based on the share price of $4.55. He was appointed managing director of Lark in October 2019. In the last 12 months, the company’s shares have risen nearly 200%, from $1.53 to $4.52, giving the company a market value of more than $340million. The company saw a 78% surge in sales in the six months to December 31.

Lark acquired the Pontville Distillery from the Kernke Family Shene Estate in October 2021, as it accelerated its export strategy. The $40 million deal comprised 38.5 million in cash and $1.5 million in Lark shares. In order to fund the acquisition, Lark undertook an equity raising of approximately $53 million.

Lark shares fell as much as 21% within hours of Bainbridge’s resignation.

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Categories: Business