Fake cancer: Belle Gibson could face $1.1M penalty, no show at court

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Belle Gibson
Australian blogger and businesswoman Belle Gibson. Facebook/Belle Gibson Uncovered

Health personality and businesswoman Belle Gibson could face a court-imposed penalty of up to $1.1 million for contraventions of consumer laws. She is accused of engaging in “unconscionable conduct” after profiting from false claims.

In 2009, Gibson said she was diagnosed with brain cancer and only had four months to live. She later said she healed herself with natural remedies such as juice cleanses and “clean eating."

Gibson took in over $1 million in profit from her cookbook and app The Whole Pantry. Her app was downloaded more than 540,000 times.

But in April 2015, Gibson confessed through The Australian Women’s Weekly that her cancer claims were not true.  “I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality,” she said.

The Victorian Federal Court has found that Gibson broke the law in “most, but not all” allegations against her. Justice Mortimer said she “deliberately played on the genuine desire of members of the Australian community to help those less fortunate.”

On Thursday, Justice Debra Mortimer reserved her verdict on penalties for Gibson. The former said she had no proof of the businesswoman’s financial position because she has not participated in a court hearing, something that Mortimer has condemned.

Mortimer said she was not aware of a case where such level of non-participation took place. “There’s certainly no evidence of contrition or remorse,” news.com.au quotes her as saying. The judge went on to say that Gibson’s non-participation could mean two things: she might be thumbing her nose at the court or is so embarrassed, adding that CAV’s request for Gibson to issue a public apology is problematic as there is no proof she is sorry.

Aside from her fraud cancer claims, Gibson is also being accused of not passing on $300,000 in pledge charity donations. It is believed she used all her profits for overseas trips, pay for a BMW and make loans to herself and her partner.

Consumer Affairs Victoria issued a statement in relation to Gibson’s case. “The alleged contraventions relate to false claims by Ms Gibson and her company concerning her diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, her rejection of conventional cancer treatments in favour of natural remedies, and the donation of proceeds to various charities,” the 2016 statement reads.

Gibson is now banned to make deceptive claims about her health. The Federal Court has ordered her to pay $30,000 towards the legal costs of CAV.

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