The new year brings new beginnings but also some legacy business issues for the courts to deal with.
NZ First Foundation donations and two mystery accused
Two people charged in the NZ First Foundation case continue to deny charges over allegations of improper political donations but may soon be named.
One of the accused is awaiting a High Court appeal hearing after losing an argument against the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and a group of media companies, including the Herald’s publisher NZME, for continued suppression.
Neither of the accused is a minister, sitting MP, was a candidate in the 2020 election or a member of their staff, or a current member of the New Zealand First party.
One of the defendants has complained the case has been “politicised” and was an attack on NZ First leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.
However, a judge said: “This ignores the fact that the prosecution alleges impropriety in the way funds have been solicited from donors to a prominent New Zealand political party … In my view the subject matter is inherently political.”
Charging documents allege the pair deposited $746,881 between September 30, 2015 and February 14, 2020 with “intent to deceive the donors of the monies, the party secretary of the New Zealand First Party and/or the Electoral Commission”.
Before the 2020 general election, the group of media companies unsuccessfully argued to the Court of Appeal the duo should be named before voters entered the ballot box.
The NZ First Party also attempted to stop the charges going public until after a government had been formed.
Peters has distanced himself from the foundation and has denied any wrongdoing after it first came under scrutiny last November. After the charges became public, he claimed at a press conference that he and the party had been “exonerated”.
The accused duo, who each face obtaining by deception charges, have pleaded not guilty but a trial date is yet to be set. They are on bail and are due to have their case called in court again on January 26.
Wealthy and prominent businessman's trial for sex and corruption charges
A rich-lister is expected to stand trial in the High Court at Auckland in February.
The prominent businessman has been on bail for more than three years after initially being charged in early 2017 with indecent assaulting a man.
He has also continued to maintain interim name suppression since then, despite opposition by the Herald and Stuff.
The wealthy Kiwi will stand trial alongside his business manager and a well-known entertainer, who are both charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.
After the initial sexual assault charge, a second indecent assault charge was laid following a complaint by a second alleged victim.
The businessman also been charged with two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice for allegedly trying to dissuade the second complainant from giving evidence at his trial.
All three accused had faced a jury trial in the Auckland District Court during March 2019 but it was aborted after nearly two weeks of evidence, the reasons for which remain suppressed.
Two witnesses, who are expected to give evidence in the trial for the Crown, have been granted immunity from prosecution by the Solicitor-General.
A well-known political figure – whose name is suppressed and has not been charged – may also give evidence.
Jami-Lee Ross and the National Party donations case
Another political donations scandal is due to play out in Auckland’s historic High Court this year.
Former National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross was charged by the SFO in January 2020 alongside brothers and businessmen Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng, and New Zealand Order of Merit recipient Yikun Zhang.
All four men have denied the allegations against them over National Party donations of $100,000 in 2017 and $100,050 in 2018. Their trial is due to be held in September.
The SFO’s investigation was prompted by Ross going public with claims against then-National leader Simon Bridges, which Bridges has adamantly denied.
Ross then laid a complaint with police, sparking the SFO inquiry.
“I was the whistleblower. I still consider that I was right to raise the concerns,” the former Botany MP told journalists after his first court appearance. “There is no own goal.”
Charging documents against the defendants allege a “fraudulent device, trick, or stratagem” was used to divide the donations into sums of less than $15,000 and hide the identity of the donor.
Political parties are required by law to report the details of donations, contributions and loans over $15,000.
In August, Ross, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 election with Billy Te Kahika Jr and Advance NZ, was ordered by a High Court judge to shred or burn SFO documents inadvertently “leaked” to him.
The SFO had been forced to take urgent court action to prevent him from publishing the legally sensitive material.
During a speech in the House of Representatives, Ross waved in the air the documents he claimed came into his possession via a “leak”.
Alleged CBL fraud and civil lawsuits
Former CBL chief executive Peter Harris and the insurance firm’s former chief financial officer Carden Mulholland are also due to stand trial in September 2021.
Both men were charged by the SFO at the end of 2019 after an investigation began in June 2018, following CBL’s collapse earlier that year.
When the NZX-listed company folded, it had a market value of $747 million.
Harris, 65, who was the managing director of CBL Insurance and the managing director of CBL Corporation, faces five charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, two of obtaining by deception, and false accounting.
“I welcome the opportunity to finally bring the wider picture of the CBL saga before the court,” Harris has said.
Mulholland, 49, faces charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, obtaining by deception and false accounting.
He lost his name suppression in December after an unsuccessful Court of Appeal challenge.
Both men have denied all the charges against them and are currently on bail.
A group of civil proceedings are also running concurrently to the criminal case, including two class actions by CBL’s shareholders.
One proceeding involves accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has attempted to strike out claims potentially totalling hundreds of millions of dollars after being sued by CBL Insurance’s liquidators.
Both CBL Corporation and CBL Insurance were placed into liquidation by the High Court in 2018.
Sir Ron Brierley faces charges in Sydney case over child abuse material
The New Zealand and Australian business tycoon faces 14 charges for allegedly possessing child abuse material after his arrest at Sydney International Airport.
The 83-year-old was stopped as he was about to board a plane to Fiji by Australian Border Force officers and his hand luggage was seized in December 2019.
Police allege they found more than 200,000 images and 500 videos on Brierley’s laptop and electronic storage devices depicting child abuse material.
Brierley, who is a chairman or director of numerous companies in Australia and New Zealand, was initially facing six charges, however, eight more counts were later added.
Brierley’s lawyer has earlier indicated he will defend the charges but not guilty pleas are yet to be formally entered.
His arrest followed a five-month police investigation, reportedly sparked by an anonymous phone call.
The famed businessman is currently on bail and his conditions stipulate he lives in his mansion at Point Piper in Sydney.
Knighted in 1988, Brierley was a giant of the New Zealand corporate scene through 1970s and 1980s leading a series of daring corporate raids and takeovers.
The multi-millionaire is due to appear in court again in February.
An extra case to follow … Mark Bryers' alleged tax fraud
Also in Australia, Mark Bryers is on bail awaiting a potential trial over an alleged multimillion-dollar tax conspiracy.
The disgraced Kiwi businessman, whose Blue Chip group collapsed in 2008 owing investors $84m, faces two charges for allegedly structuring a A$17.5m scam.
Byers, who once had an estimated personal wealth of $70m, is yet to enter a plea to either of the charges he faces.
He was arrested in Queensland by the Australian Federal Police in July 2020 alongside several others during a sting into a syndicate allegedly being directed by a criminally-connected construction boss.
Bryers was charged with intentionally dealing with proceeds of crime, money or property worth more than $1m and also of conspiring with the intention of dishonestly causing loss to the Australian Government.
He faces up to 25 years behind bars if convicted of dealing with proceeds of crime.
Byers, who is accused of personally pocketing A$1.92m from the fraud and was recorded by police describing a “cunning plan”, is due to appear in a Sydney court again in February.
Banned by the High Court from acting as a manager or director in New Zealand until 2022, Bryers is living in the suburb of Glebe and has been ordered not to leave Australia.
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