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Developers told Love's fee was for Treaty claim costs

Developers told Love's fee was for Treaty claim costs, court hears

By Sophie Boot

Aug. 5 (BusinessDesk) - Developers were told the fee paid to former Maori leader Ngatata Love that's at the heart of his fraud trial was to cover Treaty of Waitangi claim costs, the High Court in Wellington heard on the third day of the case.

Love is charged with obtaining a secret commission and obtaining significant sums by deception. The Crown says he signed an agreement in late 2006 with Auckland property developers Redwood Group and Equinox Group to ensure they could lease land owned by the Wellington Tenths Trust, which Love then chaired, and he received service fees through Pipitea Street Development Limited (PSDL), a company owned by his partner Lorraine Skiffington, without the trust’s knowledge.

In an email from Equinox's Kerry Knight to Lorraine Skiffington, Knight queried the payments required to be made to the services company. Knight said Ngatata Love had told him the funds would cover Treaty of Waitangi claim costs.

Crown witness Clive Hudson, a forensic accountant and electronic investigator, said the money had not been used for that purpose.

"Most of the funds paid to the services company were used to pay off the Westpac loan on the Plimmerton residence owned by Ngatata Love and Lorraine Skiffington," Hudson said.

In September that year, Knight wrote again to Skiffington, requesting the $1.5 million services payment be unwound and a refund be given to Equinox, the developers.

The court heard about communications between Lorraine Skiffington and the developers between February 2008 and April 2008, including an email Skiffington sent on Feb. 17 when she reassured Knight about projects going ahead: "We all have good links in Wellington. The mayor knows and likes you. They bend over themselves to help Ngatata."

The Crown presented a document found on Love's laptop, named the joint venture partnership document. It discussed the relationship between PSDL and Pipitea St Limited, and showed PDSL loaned $1 million of the developer's payment for the purchase of the Plimmerton property on Moana Rd.

Hudson said metadata showed Love was the author and last modifying user of the document.

Colin Carruthers, Love's QC, began his cross-examination before lunch, looking at a map of transactions showing money moving between multiple trust and individual bank accounts.

Carruthers said Love had no involvement with PDSL, which Hudson agreed with. Love's counsel went on to say the Plimmerton house had been bought in November 2006, before there was any agreement between Skiffington and the developers, although Hudson said there were "negotiations and drafts" which provided a basis for the view that they were related transactions.

Travis Coffey, a development manager at Equinox, will give evidence this afternoon.

The trial, being heard by judge alone, is continuing.


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