The trial has begun for the duo charged with fraudulently depositing money into a New Zealand First Foundation account.
Two men were charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in September 2020 after allegedly transferring just under $750,000 into two separate accounts, including the NZ First Foundation account between August 2015 and March 2020.
Media organisations, including Stuff, sought to reveal the pair’s identities before the October 2020 General Election. However, despite hearings at the District Court, High Court and seeking leave to the Court of Appeal, the application was declined.
The duo, who deny the charges, are on trial at the High Court at Auckland in front of Justice Pheroze Jagose.
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Given the pair have interim name suppression until it can be again argued later on Tuesday, the duo will be referred to as Mr A and Mr B.
Paul Wicks QC, acting on behalf of the Serious Fraud Office made an opening statement to Justice Jagose on Tuesday.
He said between 2015 and 2020, about 40 donors to the New Zealand First Party believed their donations were going to the party, but they didn’t because of a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem by the defendants.
Instead of the party’s bank account number, five donors were given an account for a business owned by Mr A and 35 donors were given an account number of a trust – the New Zealand First Foundation.
“As a result of this diversion of funds, they obtained possession without the party, including the secretary knowing they had them,” Wicks QC said.
Wicks QC submitted the second part of the stratagem was the non-transmittal of those donations to the Party.
The defendants kept the money and spent it how they saw fit, Wicks said.
”They obtained and retained unfettered control over the funds.”
Wicks said the pair were in breach of the Electoral Act when they are alleged to have committed the offending.
The pair chose not to follow the requirements under the Act and ran a scheme leaving the party, donors and the public in the dark.
“Not a cent of the nearly $750,000 was accounted for in the annual returns. The Crown says in running the scheme, the defendants committed the offence of obtaining by deception, funnelling of donations to entities outside the party – remained in control of the funds, so they could use them as they saw fit,” Wicks said.
Wicks said the New Zealand First Foundation account was used as a slush fund for the 2017 election campaign and thereafter.
The Serious Fraud Office will read and call evidence from a number of donors, former New Zealand First MPs, board members and forensic accountants.
Neither of the people charged is a minister, sitting MP or candidate prior to the 2020 election. Nor were they a current member of the NZ First party or a staff member.
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