Pokie fraud case nears verdict

The three pleaded not guilty to all charges in the judge-only trial. Photo credit: File

A verdict is expected on Thursday in a multimillion-dollar pokie machine fraud case involving Blenheim harness racing identity Michael O'Brien.

The case, believed to the biggest criminal one outside a casino in New Zealand, wrapped up in the Wellington High Court in April.

Michael O'Brien, his father Patrick - the former chairman of Harness Racing NZ, Paul Max and a fourth man, a former Department of Internal Affairs employee who has name suppression for legal reasons, faced charges of fraud and deception worth more than $11 million.

Patrick O'Brien was removed from the trial by Justice Robert Dobson soon after the trial began in February on the grounds of ill-health.

Michael O'Brien was accused of setting up the Blenheim-based Bluegrass Holdings Ltd to operate 144 pokie machines at eight pubs and clubs around the country and being the unseen hand behind it, including controlling where gaming machine profits could be distributed.

Prosecutor Grant Burston told the court that through Michael O'Brien's hidden interest in businesses where the pokie machines were placed, he could sway the grants process.

Max allegedly held O'Brien's interests in his own name to conceal O'Brien's involvement.

The three pleaded not guilty to all charges in the judge-only trial.