Three major Crown prosecutions to watch in 2014

Normal sittings in the High Court resume February 3 and it will be an interesting year for Crown prosecutions. High Court judges will hear about the fallout from collapsed finance companies and a political party leader who signs documents without reading them. Let the circus begin.

Belgrave Finance
The trial begins February 24 at the High Court at Auckland for the legal adviser at the heart of the Belgrave Finance fallout.

Hugh Edward Staples Hamilton faces 19 Crimes Act charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, five charges of false statement by promoter and 11 Companies Act charges of making a false statement to a trustee.

Mr Hamilton, a former barrister and solicitor, no longer holds a current practising certificate.

After launching a joint investigation, 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.

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

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

South Canterbury Finance
Judgment Day is nearing for the three remaining defendants charged in the South Canterbury Finance (SCF) fiasco.

The trial is set to begin March 12 in the High Court at Timaru for former chief executive Lachie McLeod and former board members Edward Sullivan and Robert White, a retired lawyer and retired accountant, respectively.  

The charges against former chief financial officer Graeme Brown and group accountant Terrance Hutton were dropped last year.

SCF was placed into receivership in August 2010 owing about $1.8 billion. The estimated value of allegedly fraudulent transactions is about $1.7 billion.

Remaining charges against the three allege a variety of offences, including theft by a person in a special relationship; obtaining by deception; false statements by the promoter of a company; and false accounting.

Charges, all under the Crimes Act, carry maximum penalties ranging from seven to 10 years' jail.

The investigation of the collapsed finance company began in October 2010 under the Serious Fraud Office Act.

Under the act, the Solicitor General is required to appoint a panel of prosecutors for the prosecution of cases of serious and complex fraud brought by the SFO. These members serve three-year terms, with 28 lawyers currently serving on the panel.

Panel counsel for the SCF prosecution are Queen’s counsel Colin Carruthers and Nick Flanagan of Meredith Connell.

John Banks
Before Christmas the embattled ACT Party leader lost a High Court bid to avoid trial. He even tried to sneak out the side entrance at Auckland High Court to avoid the media, which caught up with him down the street.

Ironically, he told them he wasn’t nervous about the trial because he has nothing to hide.

John Banks cannot avoid his 10-day trial set to begin May 19 at Auckland High Court.

Mr Banks is charged with transmitting a false electoral return in December 2010, following his failed mayoral bid in Auckland.

He signed an electoral return, which listed three donations from SkyCity and Kim Dotcom as anonymous.

Mr Banks has repeatedly claimed he did not scrutinise the return after a trusted member of his team prepared the document. However, he signed it.

Solicitor General Michael Heron has told the High Court it doesn’t matter if Mr Banks knew what the return included at the time it was transmitted in December 2010. What does matter, he says, is Mr Banks knew donations were likely after the meetings and conversations with the parties over a period of months.

The three donations in question were made in May and June of 2010: a $15,000 cheque by SkyCity Management and two $25,000 donations made by Mega on behalf of Kim Dotcom.

The High Court sped up the court date because of the election year and has agreed to hear the case instead of the Auckland District Court. Mr Banks has elected a judge-alone trial.