Sir Ngatata Love found guilty in fraud case

Sir Ngatata Love
Sir Ngatata Love

Prominent Maori leader Sir Ngatata Love has been found guilty of obtaining property by deception, in relation to transactions he conducted as chairman of the Wellington Tenths Trust in 2006/07.

Sir Ngatata was facing charges of fraud and corruption at a judge-alone trial at the Wellington High Court.

Justice Graham Lang handed down the guilty verdict on Thursday morning.

But whether he will be stripped of his title has been left unanswered, with Prime Minister John Key's office told Newshub it wouldn't comment until any appeal has run finished.

Justice Lang said the bulk of a $1.5m payment by developers was used to reduce Sir Ngatata's mortgage on a Plimmerton property and that failures to disclose payments to trustees "cannot be inadvertent".

"The only reason to withhold information was because he didn't want them to know about them."

In 2006 the trust owned several properties in Pipitea Street. 

Justice Lang said trustees could see prime development opportunities, which would be negotiated by Sir Ngatata.

Sir Ngatata contacted Auckland developers Redwood and Equinox Groups.  The developers agreed to pay $3m for the right to purchase a lease on Pipitea Street.

Sir Ngatata sent out a Chairman's report, then a "risk management proposal" for the development of Pipitea St. 

"That proposal made no mention of the offer to pay $3m" and was never disclosed to Tenths Trustees.

Around same date, Sir Ngatata's partner, Lorraine Skiffington, signed a services agreement with the developers, on behalf Pipitea Street Development Ltd, agreeing to pay PSDL $3m in three instalments.

"By January the developers had paid PSDL $1.5m under services agreement." PSDL transferred the bulk of that money to two trusts held by Sir Ngatata and Skiffington.

A month earlier, those trusts had bought a $1.8m property in Plimmerton, which Justice Lang said was always intended as a residence for Sir Ngatata and Skiffington.

Justice Lang said "I am satisfied Dr Love knew about all of those transactions and was instrumental in those early agreements".

While Sir Ngatata has been found guilty of obtaining property by deception, his lawyer, Colin Carruthers QC, requested that a conviction not be entered, instead deferring the conviction to sentencing.

Serious Fraud Office director Julie Read says there is a risk fraud such as this can happen when there are "significant sums of money" involved.

"As the decision of the Court in this matter found, the abuse of trust for personal gain is a very serious matter," she says.

The SFO acknowledged the Tenths Trust who cooperated fully during the process. 

Sir Ngatata has been remanded on bail without conditions and will be sentenced on October 6.

The Tenths Trust declined to comment until after any appeal had been completed and referred questions about Sir Ngatata's knighthood to the Government.