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Love denies knowledge of $1.5M payment from developers

Monday 22nd August 2016

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Former Treaty negotiator Ngatata Love told the High Court he didn't know about a $1.5 million payment from a developer chosen for a land deal involving the trust he chaired, even though it was paid into his partner's account and used to cover a mortgage on the house he lived in.

Love began his testimony this morning. He's accused of signing 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 that involved secret commissions paid via Pipitea Street Development Limited (PSDL), a company owned by his partner Lorraine Skiffington, without the trust’s knowledge.

Skiffington was charged but has been granted a permanent stay due to her ill health, while Ngatata Love's son Matene Love has already pleaded guilty to accepting a secret commission.

In December 2006 the developers signed an agreement to lease the land, with a “services agreement” in which they agreed to pay $1.5 million to Pipitea St Developments, according to the prosecution case. The Serious Fraud Office found a draft copy of the Services Agreement marked “Ngatata’s working copy” in a document destruction bin from Love and Skiffington's Plimmerton residence. 

Love today denied having the "working copy" and said the document destruction bins had been collected from the house because it was "easier to sort it out separately" than to do it in the office.

He also said he'd had no knowledge of, and wasn't involved in, money movements between the developers and various trusts and bank accounts he and Skiffington were responsible for. Skiffington had authority to move money from the joint account the two shared, he said. 

Love hadn't been responsible for the payment of the mortgage on the Moana Rd house in Plimmerton, and his responsibility while living there was to pay for items such as groceries and Sky TV, he said. 

"I had nothing to do with that, I was a tenant," Love said. 

He and Skiffington had never shared or developed assets together, and they hadn't had access to each other's banks accounts, he said. Love had expected the mortgage to be paid by Skiffington selling property she owned in Khandallah, but it was "her house and her responsibility," he said. 

Defence counsel Colin Carruthers QC presented a loan application analysis from Westpac stating Love had $8 million in property assets and no debt. Love said he hadn't given the bank the information on the loan application analysis, and didn't recall meeting Campbell Cowan, the manager who had prepared the loan analysis. 

"Absolutely not, that information's not correct," Love said. 

He had allowed Skiffington to use his name on the mortgage application as he understood Skiffington had "needed some support" to get the loan, on the proviso that he could "come out" of the situation and not be responsible for the mortgage, he said. 

Earlier in the day, Love didn't give a definitive answer about the nature of his relationship with Skiffington. The Crown has characterised her as having been his partner, but Love said he wasn't sure of the definition of partner and that he and Skiffington had been friends, connecting on a spiritual level, and that there had been no sexual relationship. 

He had moved into the Plimmerton house with his youngest daughter because it was closer to the city than Waikanae, where he had previously lived, Love said. He and Skiffington had different bedrooms, bathrooms and didn't share the same taste in food so didn't eat together, he said. 

The judge-alone trial before Justice Graham Lang is continuing, with Love due to be cross-examined by the Crown tomorrow.

BusinessDesk.co.nz

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