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Ngatata Love jailed for 2 years 6 months over $1.5 mln fraud

Friday 7th October 2016

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Former Treaty of Waitangi claims negotiator Ngatata Love has been sentenced to two years and six months in prison after being convicted of taking a secret payment of $1.5 million while chairman of the Wellington Tenths Trust. 

At the High Court in Wellington, Justice Graham Lang said the maximum penalty for the charge was seven years imprisonment, and an appropriate starting point would be four years nine months. Had Love been the sole offender, the judge said he would have accepted a starting point of five-to-five-and-a-half years, but lowered it because of Lorraine Skiffington's involvement. 

"I don't know what kind of influence she had, but the fact she must have had some influence is the only inference to be drawn after you led such a blameless life in the past. What you cannot escape is Ms Skiffington was not a trustee," Justice Lang said. 

"The most important factor is the fact that your offending involves a gross breach of trust," the judge said. "The other trustees left it to you to deal solely with the developers. You took advantage of the trust they placed in you to acquire a very substantial sum of money."

Justice Lang said Love was entitled to a 30 percent discount, or 18 months, for his historical contributions to Maoridom. 

"For more than 40 years you have devoted yourself selflessly" to Maori development, the judge said. "Those actions make you an inspirational leader in Maoridom so you are entitled to very significant credit for that."

Love's health conditions merited a further discount of nine months, the judge said.  

"The issues you present with can be managed within a prison environment, However, your admission will need to be carefully managed." Justice Lang said Love will need to be closely monitored. 

The judge chose not to give a further discount which would make Love eligible for home detention, saying the sentence was designed to be a deterrent and that he didn't see Love acknowledged the damage he had caused. 

"I do not see any remorse for what has occurred," Justice Lang said. 

The Tenths Trust, a Maori incorporation, submitted a victim impact statement, from which the judge said it was clear Love's offending had had a profound effect on the trust, both financial and otherwise.

"This has caused all kinds of issues for the trust," Justice Lang said. "It has had to devote an enormous amount of time and effort to provide information to the Serious Fraud Office."

The Crown submitted the judge should make an order for reparations, on the basis it may provide a means to unlock the equity in the house held by Love's trust. 

The judge said Love has no means of meeting any order of reparation other than through the sale of the  Plimmerton residence, but he isn't a trustee of the trust through which he owned half the property anymore. 

"I see no practical utility in making an order for reparation," Justice Lang said. 

The trust can register its interest in the property through other legal action taking place around the house, the judge said. 

"You were seen as the leader of the trustees and held up in high esteem," Justice Lang said. "You never disclosed that the developers were prepared to pay $3 million dollars for the right to develop the land."

Love's lawyer, Colin Carruthers QC, said he had been given instructions to appeal a sentence of imprisonment and applied for bail pending that appeal, which was declined. 

The Court of Appeal can hold a hearing on Nov. 14, and Justice Lang said he will reconsider his decision if new evidence becomes available. 

Crown prosecutor Matthew Ferrier said the precedent was for the court's decision to be treated as correct, and the length of sentence imposed was middling.

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