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Crown alleges Ngatata Love set up $3M in secret payments to buy house for himself and partner

Thursday 25th August 2016

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Former Treaty negotiator Ngatata Love was fully aware of and approved a $1.5 million payment from a land developer into a trust controlled by his partner, Lorraine Skiffington, which is at the heart of his fraud trial, the Crown says.

In the High Court in Wellington prosecutor Grant Burston today delivered his closing submissions of the Crown's case against Love, who is charged with obtaining significant sums by deception, or alternately obtaining a secret commission. 

The Crown says Love signed 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, which he chaired. Part of that deal was a $3 million service fee, of which $1.5 million was paid through Pipitea Street Development Limited (PSDL), a company owned by his companion Lorraine Skiffington, soon after the lease was signed, without the trust’s knowledge. That money is said to have been used to repay a property loan on a Plimmerton house he and Skiffington co-owned, with a second payment due later.

Burston said the evidence - including emails, minutes of board meetings, emails sent by Skiffington, and bank documents - showed Love had knowledge of what was going on and that it was only by using Love's name and standing in the community that Love and Skiffington were able to channel the service fees into a personal trust rather than to the Tenths Trust as the developers intended. He pointed to testimony from Shaan Stevens, another PSDL director, as evidence of Love's knowledge.

"Particularly with regard to the money transfers from which he benefited, Ms Skiffington must have been acting on Dr Love's instructions or with his authority," Burston said. "Mr Steven's account was that Dr Love was 'directing traffic' in the negotiations with the developers. There was no challenge to his evidence about Dr Love's general role. 

"It would be remarkable, the Crown submits, that Ms Skiffington was not acting with Dr Love's knowledge and authority. The Crown case has accepted it was Dr Love's position of influence that was being exploited in order to get the benefit of payments. It cannot be the case that what happened with the fruit of that influence went on without Dr Love's knowledge and approval."

Burston said Love had neglected his obligations to the Tenths Trust by not disclosing the $3 million agreed payment from the developers, and the services payment had been deliberately left off lease documents seen by the trust. In 2010, Skiffington demanded documents be returned by the trust's lawyers when she realised they included details of the payment, Burston said. 

The Crown Prosecutor disputed Love's testimony that the Moana Rd purchase was Skiffington's alone and that his name had only been on the mortgage to help initially. The real estate agent who showed them the house had shown Love around separately and told the court that Love had mentioned a possible earlier settlement, consistent with the Crown's case that Love and Skiffington had bought the house together as a couple, Burston said.

"The mortgage was paid down with the lump sum payments that Ms Skiffington obtained through PSDL," Burston said. "That was set up as a device to take that premium by Dr Love. He did know what he was doing. The record of what Dr Love said is consistent with him being a joint owner."

Colin Carruthers, Love's QC, will sum up the defence case this afternoon.

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