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Shaan Stevens says he was 'duped' by Love, Skiffington, SFO found no evidence against him

Thursday 1st September 2016

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Shaan Stevens, who gave evidence for the Crown in the fraud trial of Ngatata Love, says he was "duped" by the former Treaty negotiator and his partner Lorraine Skiffington and the Serious Fraud Office found no improper behaviour on his part.

Love's defence blamed Stevens, a business consultant and former director of Skiffington’s Pipitea Street Developments, and Skiffington herself for banking transactions linked to a Plimmerton property at the heart of the fraud case. Love was today found guilty in the High Court of obtaining property by deception in his dealings with developers while chairman of the Wellington Tenths Trust in 2006. 

In his summing up last week, Love's QC Colin Carruthers had told the judge that he had no option but to find Stevens' evidence was unreliable as he had told a "bare-faced lie." Carruthers said Stevens' "fingerprints and footprints" were all over the negotiation documents, and it was clear he had been involved in the negotiations right from the start.

Under cross-examination, Love said Stevens, along with Skiffington, had used his name on negotiation documents "in a manner that is not acceptable," and he had trusted Stevens, but now realised that trust was "wrong."

Stevens told BusinessDesk, "Yes, I advised Skiffington and Love on their financial transactions, but like others I was duped by very smooth political operators, with years of experience, learnt at the feet of their political masters for whom they served, and by whom they were paid handsomely. Now I read with surprise that they themselves were 'duped' by their adviser, namely me. Were there any credence to this claim, I would be standing beside them in the dock charged with the same crime".

Skiffington was charged but subsequently granted a permanent stay due to her ill health. In delivering his verdict today Justice Graham Lang said Stevens had been "an unsatisfactory witness" because he was closely involved in the key events which led to the charges and there was a risk he had given evidence influenced by a desire to distance himself and blame Love and Skiffington.

But Stevens said after the judgment that he wasn't given "a free pass" by the SFO, which had access to all the information held about him including emails, meeting notes and advice provided to Love and Skiffington.

"They also cross-checked all of this information with evidence obtained from multiple other sources, including personal email accounts of Love and Skiffington," Stevens said. "I was clearly told that should they have found any evidence indicating any improper or criminal activity by me, I would have been charged. The SFO had enough to show criminal activity by Love and my evidence simply confirmed the fraudulent activity."

The charges came from a Serious Fraud Office investigation into a $1.5 million payment from a land developer into a trust controlled by Love's partner, Lorraine Skiffington, which was then used to repay a property loan on a Plimmerton house he and Skiffington co-owned. It was the first installment of what was intended to be a $3 million payment.

Love was remanded on bail before sentencing on Oct. 6, with a pre-sentence report directed to contain a home detention appendix which Justice Graham Lang said was "not to be taken as an indication of the sentence that will be imposed." The judge agreed not to enter a conviction before sentencing, at the request of Love's lawyer, Colin Carruthers QC.

The verdict marks a fall from grace for the Wellington insider who was made a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Maori in 2008, later upgraded to a knighthood, and who was able to call up high-profile character witnesses during the trial. He was said to be a close confidante of Helen Clark on Maori issues when she was prime minister. 

Stevens described the attempt to shift the blame to him as "typical of those self-appointed 'elite' lost in their own sense of entitlement."

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