GCSB HQ still embroiled in fraud investigations

The Serious Fraud Office is still “plugging away” at investigations involving $50 million of Wellington property sales – including one involving the Government Security Communications Bureau HQ.

The GCSB – which has been caught up in other turmoil of its own over the past fortnight – is the main tenant in custom built offices in central Wellington, Pipitea House.

Among others, it is at the heart of a lengthy SFO investigation of property deals involving Wellington Tenths Trust, its chairman Sir Ngatata Love, and his partner and former ministerial adviser to then senior Labour minister Margaret Wilson, Lorraine Skiffington.

Pipitea House is a joint venture between the Tenths Trust and Auckland-based Redwood Group. 

It also houses the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was opened in mid-2011 by Prime Minister John Key and then head of the GCSB and now Governor General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, when it was hailed as a modern “green” building for the agencies.

It is alleged Ms Skiffington was paid “consultancy fees” by Auckland property developers Kerry Knight and Tony Gapes.

Ms Skiffington, while employed by property law firm Knight Caldicutt, was also receiving “consultancy fees” to persuade the Wellington Tenths Trust to take part in the deal.

A key document in the investigation is a series of emails between Ms Skiffington and Mr Knight which raises the issue of Sir Ngatata Love’s expectations of what would be paid if the Wellington Tenths Trust was persuaded to take part in the deal.

“Ngatata will be expecting the consultancy payment to be significant. Let’s see what it actually looks like”, reads one crucial email from Ms Skiffington to Mr Knight.

What the dollars looked like were monthly payments to Ms Skiffington totalling up to $750,000 a year, then 3% of the $50 million Pipitea project, or $1.5 million.

The GCSB building deal is “certainly one of the transactions we are looking at”, acting SFO chief executive Simon McArley told NBR ONLINE. The GCSB itself, however, is not directly involved: it is the tenant of the custom-built building.

“We’re still plugging on with this ... one of these day’s we’ll come to an end. At this stage I can’t give you any detail of when or why.”

Other property deals – some of which were not completed – included payments from the Wellington City Council, for land for the upgraded bus terminal, under which Ms Skiffington was billing the council $350 an hour; and also never completed proposals to charge a “consultancy fee” of $750,000 to help facilitate a Lord of the Rings museum planned for Shelly Bay land by Sir Peter Jackson.

The museum was to be sited on land owned by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, a body also chaired by Sir Ngatata Love.