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Witness recall looms in Skinner and Rowley accounting fraud case

Thursday 14th June 2012

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Experts in computer fraud will be recalled to the Wellington High Court after conflicting evidence in the trial of Wellington accountants Barrie Skinner and David Rowley brought proceedings to a halt in a key area of testimony.

Justice Stephen Kos signalled the likely recall of two witnesses who have already given evidence that the dates on which computer files were created can be manipulated by turning back the clock on the computer they are stored on. However, Rowley insisted in evidence today that files in a folder can be transferred to another computer hard drive and retain their original creation dates.

The issue is important because Skinner and Rowley are accused on more than 100 counts of fraudulently using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage, attempting to pervert the course of justice and tax evasion.

Question lines from Crown lawyer Dale La Hood this morning also focused on delays in the discovery of backed up documents, some of which only came to light on Tuesday this week, and occasions on which Rowley had been given leave to retrieve documents from his offices during the trial.

The way the two accountants stored and backed up documents relating to property-related transactions, which it's alleged they used to create tax refunds for clients, was also cross-examined in detail. The court has already heard from clients who claimed not to understand the transactions, and to have placed complete trust in Skinner and Rowley.

Some said they only learnt they had been implicated in property transactions once an Inland Revenue Department investigation into the accountants was launched. La Hood concentrated on what he said was a pattern of documents which had been placed on a back-up hard drive jumping between dates in 2012 and 2008.

"If the cut and paste (of a document) picks up the date on your computer, then the only explanation for these dates going back chronologically is that whoever is doing the cut and paste is setting back the date on the computer," said La Hood, in questioning Rowley. Expert evidence had dismissed other possible explanations as "fanciful."

But Rowley disputed that, saying the expert evidence only dealt with "an analysis of the back-up drive, not the documents themselves", prompting La Hood to insist the documents contained no embedded date that could exist separately from the computer they were loaded to.

When Rowley insisted documents did have an embedded date, La Hood said "even taking your theory, that still relies on the source drive being an accurate date." "Either way, it's got to be based on the date in the computer," La Hood said.

Justice Kos stepped in shortly afterwards to adjourn this part of the evidence, pending a return to the court of the two expert witnesses, possibly later this week. The case, which has been running since early May, is expected to conclude towards the middle of next week.

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