The defendants appeared in Auckland District Court today. Photo / File
Six people indicted by the Serious Fraud Office over allegations of illegal donation by the Labor Party have had their first day in court.
The defendants were summoned this morning before Judge Brooke Gibson and before a press gallery full of reporters at Auckland District Court.
“This is not a jury trial, is it?” Judge Gibson joked about the reporters sitting in the jury room.
“Not a very good jury,” he said.
Much of what was discussed during the 20-minute hearing, however, was deleted by the judge, including the identities of the defendants.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty through their attorney and have been released on bail until the next court hearing in three weeks, when the interim name suppression orders will be discussed.
Judge Gibson first said he was not disturbed by the formality of having the six defendants standing in the large wharf with the glass windows.
“They should be in the dock, but it shouldn’t take too long, so I won’t insist,” he told council.
However, Judge Gibson later insisted that the six people move from the public gallery to the wharf to allow photojournalists to film them.
Prominent Auckland lawyer Paul Wicks QC is pursuing the case for the OFS.
Court documents previously released to media by the Auckland District Court show that the six people face 12 charges in total.
The OFS lodged a complaint on May 12 after an investigation into donations made to the Labor Party in 2017.
Each of the accused is charged with two counts of having obtained by deception a donation of at least $ 34,840 for the Labor Party around March 28, 2017. The OFS alleges that the identity of the donor was not was disclosed in the party’s annual report on party donations.
The group is accused of adopting a “fraudulent device, trick or scheme” where the donation was paid through an intermediary account before being paid and kept by the Labor Party.
Court documents also allege that the group provided five names to “create the illusion” of five donations of amounts under $ 15,000 to conceal the amount and the identity of the actual donor.
The six defendants are also accused of having illegally obtained an advantage for the real donor by allowing them “to be immune from any public scrutiny”.
After the charges were laid, Labor Party General Secretary Rob Salmond said in a statement that the party had “complied with the law”.
Prime Minister and Labor leader Jacinda Ardern also commented to reporters saying there was something wrong with the legislation because many political parties face legal action.
“It’s not a good environment for anyone, for any political party, but neither for New Zealanders, they want to have faith in the system, so let’s look at the law,” she said.
“It sends a message to us, in the political system, that we should be looking at how our regime works.”
There are separate lawsuits against the OFS involving the National Party and the NZ First Foundation, while the Maori Party is under investigation.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s campaign spending is also the subject of an OFS investigation.
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This notice was published: 2021-05-24 00:05:00