Criminal trial begins for former Hawke’s Bay mayor, Belgrave Finance legal adviser

UPDATED; Hugh Hamilton, the legal adviser at the heart of the Belgrave Finance collapse, pleaded not guilty today to all Crown charges at the High Court at Auckland.

After the charges were read and pleas entered, Justice John Anthony Faire allowed Mr Hamilton to leave the dock and sit with his lawyers. Mr Hamilton, a former barrister and solicitor, no longer holds a practising certificate.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Financial Markets Authority (FMA) allege Mr Hamilton was an accomplice to the substantive fraudulent representations and use of the Belgrave investors’ funds after the government offices launched a joint investigation.

Belgrave Finance was placed into receivership in May 2008, owing 1000 public investors more than $20 million.

Nick Williams of Meredith Connell, on behalf of the Crown, is leading the prosecution against Mr Hamilton. He also served as prosecutor during the Capital + Merchant and Five Star Consumer Finance directors’ trials.

Mr Hamilton faces several Crimes Act charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, charges of false statement by promoter and Companies Act charges of making a false statement to a trustee.

Maximum penalties for the charges range from seven to 10 years.

The Crown’s 60-page opening submission is expected to take the entire first day of the proceeding. Its first witness, David Crichton of HFK in Christchurch, is expected in the witness stand tomorrow morning.

Mr Crichton has been a key Crown witness in the prosecution of other finance company directors. He was appointed by the Securities Commission to inspect Bridgecorp after its receivership in July 2007, which left 14,500 investors about $490 million out of pocket.

Mr Crichton has also acted as an inspector in a few other finance company failures – National Finance, Nathans Finance, Capital + Merchant, and Hanover Finance.

Mr Hamilton  was a Hawke's Bay mayor from 1989 to 1995 and made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1997 for service to local body and community affairs.

In June 2011 he resigned as partner from Waipukurau law firm DAC Legal. 

Dr John Gray Robertson, a Waiheke sole practitioner, is representing Mr Hamilton. The judge-alone trial was scheduled to begin February 10 but had been delayed at least twice.

The hearing is set down for eight weeks