"The Yannon deal was an undisclosed indemnity given by Coles-Myer to a shelf company called Yannon set up by CS First Boston. It bought shares in a company called Premier, a major shareholder in Coles-Myer controlled by then Executive Chair of Coles, Solomon Lew. It guaranteed Yannon against any losses in the share deal, eventually costing Coles $18 million. Coles retrieved $12 million in a later agreement between itself, Mr Lew and with other parties. The funding of the buying of its own shares, the apparent involvement of the chairman and the lack of disclosure raised serious governance issues for Coles-Myer, and ended with the replacement of almost the entire board of directors and the withdrawal of significant shareholder support."
Another controversial Business transaction involving Lew related to a single purpose trust called Etiket. The beneficiaries were Lew's family. The trust was used to acquire 2% of Coles Myer in 1989, at a time of high interest rates. Lew offered competing explanations for what happened next. But the end result was that the Coles Myer shares were assigned to Premier Investments for an $8 million profit. A Queen's Counsel who investigated the transaction said:
Alan Cameron, ASIC chairman at the time, acknowledged during the press conference to announce the outcome of the investigation that: "It is worth saying that the original loss suffered by Coles Myer was about $18 million, and the recovery made by Coles Myer was in excess of $12 million." Mr Lew contributed to this 1996 settlement with Coles-Myer.
In 1999, each of his children was gifted $170 million from the "Lew Custodian Trust" established to minimise taxes. The trust has become the main subject of the acrimonious divorces of two of his children.
He was formerly a Director then Chairman of the board for Coles Myer (now known as the Coles Group) until voted out by shareholders after a series of controversies related to his private dealings with the company. He was also involved in an unsuccessful attempt to resurrect Ansett airlines with Lindsay Fox following its collapse in September 2001. In 2008 he returned to the board of his public company vehicle Premier Investments and became its chairman.
In September 2002, a resolution to remove Lew from the Board of Coles Myer was successful after Stan Wallis, the Chairman of the company and a former banker, campaigned for Lew's removal. Wallis successfully lobbied major institutional shareholders, including insurance companies, banks and large investment firms to take the rare action of voting against an incumbent Director. Prior to the vote, Lew campaigned heavily spending an estimated $10 million campaigning for his re-election focusing mainly on smaller shareholders. He was successful in obtaining millions of proxies but they were ultimately insufficient.
In March 2008, Lew returned to the public company stage, rejoining the board of the listed company Premier Investments, as its chairman. At the same time, Premier announced a takeover offer for Just Group, one of Australia's largest Retailers which owns Just Jeans, Portmans, Dotti, Peter Alexander, Jay Jays, Smiggle and Jacqui E. Analysts criticised the offer for being too low and comprising less than half in cash. In publicly explaining his offer, Lew said Just Group was trading worse than had been disclosed to the investment community. Just Group's Dr Pollard disputed this claim and threatened to report Lew for breaching the Corporations Law and rules relating to takeovers for making claims of this kind outside the formal documentation associated with his bid. Media commentators were strongly critical of Lew's tactics, with one describing him as "stunningly gauche".