Appeal court strikes down Ngatata Love's bid to quash fraud conviction, sentence
By Paul McBeth
June 26 (BusinessDesk) - The Court of Appeal has rejected a bid by one-time Maori luminary Ngatata Love to overturn his conviction and jail sentence for defrauding the Wellington Tenths Trust while he was chair of the iwi body.
Justices Rhys Harrison, Christine French and Brendan Brown today dismissed Love's appeals that there had been a miscarriage of justice in declaring him fit to stand trial because of his dementia and that the subsequent sentence was unduly harsh. Last year Love was jailed for two-and-a-half years after being convicted of taking secret payments totalling $1.5 million from property developers wanting to develop land owned by the Wellington Tenths Trust, of which Love was chair.
Love didn't challenge the High Court judge's reasoning for the guilty verdict, rather he argued that the conviction was unsafe because he was wrongly found fit to stand trial, didn't have access to communication assistance, and sought to submit new evidence.
The appeal court judges dismissed the communication assistance argument as without substance and said the additional evidence would have likely helped the Crown case, with none raising reasonable doubt about Love's guilt.
The judges also rejected the bid to declare a mistrial over Love's fitness to stand trial, saying Justice Graham Lang intervened when necessary to ensure Love wasn't overloaded and "held his own" when fielding questions in the witness box.
"The judge exercised care accordingly in assessing reliability of memory. But this limitation on the Crown case was largely negated by its primary reliance on a clear and incontrovertible document trail," the judgment said. "The contemporaneous documents were the most reliable and, for Dr Love, damaging aspects of the evidence."
The appeal court bench also rejected the sentence as being too harsh and not taking into account Love's difficulties, saying they were satisfied prison authorities were taking all proper steps to ensure Love was getting appropriate healthcare and that he appeared to be in relatively good health.
"The prison environment has been able to accommodate the dietary demands of his diabetes and other conditions," the judges said.
The appeal court judges found the two-and-a-half year jail term was "well within range, if not merciful, and could not possibly be criticised as excessive".