Prominent businessman found guilty of all indecent assault and corruption charges

Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 23 Mar 2021, 4:25pm
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

Prominent businessman found guilty of all indecent assault and corruption charges

Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 23 Mar 2021, 4:25pm

A jury today delivered its verdicts for a Kiwi rich-lister who has been on trial for the past month.

A wealthy and influential businessman has been found guilty of all of his indecent assault and corruption charges.

The rich-lister had been on trial during the past month in the High Court at Auckland, accused of indecently assaulting three men in the early 2000s, 2008 and 2016.

He was found guilty of all three.

The man, who continues to maintain name suppression, was also charged with twice trying to pervert the course of justice by offering a bribe for the 2016 complainant to drop their claims.

He was found guilty of both.

The businessman's manager, who has name suppression, was jointly charged and on trial over attempting to dissuade the complainant in an elaborate scheme on the Gold Coast in 2017.

He was also found guilty today.

Both accused were remanded on bail and will now be sentenced in May.

An entertainer has already pleaded guilty to two charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice for trying to have the complainant drop their allegations, including for the Gold Coast incident and an earlier effort in April 2017.

He has name suppression and is due to be sentenced at the end of this month.

Throughout the case, the rich-lister has strenuously denied indecently assaulting any of the men and told police he was the victim of an "amazing blackmailing circuit".

His lawyer, David Jones QC, told jurors the complainants were liars and had fabricated stories for ulterior motives, including revenge over failed business ventures and wanting to be part of the MeToo movement.

"They want to bring someone down, for whatever reason," Jones said. "They know they have suppression, it's a matter of law, they know they can come along and throw rocks without being named."

He said his client had been "painted as this ogre, but he is the vulnerable one".

Allegations and denials

The businessman was first charged in February 2017 with indecently assaulting a young man at the rich-lister's home in October 2016.

He told the Herald after being charged the allegation was a "pack of lies".
"It's not going to come to any-thing … There is absolutely no substance to it, it is a completely vicious blackmailing effort which is not going to succeed.

"It's horrible to have this ... truthless accusation hanging over my head."

The young man would later tell a court - via video link from Australia last month - he was initially introduced to the businessman by the entertainer.

He was offered a room to stay at the businessman's house after moving to Auckland.

During an October 2016 night, however, the young man said he was indecently assaulted by the rich-lister after falling ill from food poisoning and vomiting violently.

He said the businessman had entered his room and crawled onto the bed next to him before fondling him.

"Do I just lie here and let this man take advantage of me and abuse me or do I call for help? Do I defend myself?" The young man said.

He recalled the businessman telling him: "Embrace me, let me embrace you."

The victim said it was "almost like he enjoyed me trying to fight or resist his embrace" before he fled the room and was taken to hospital by another guest to treat his food poisoning.

He told medical staff about the incident and was soon interviewed by police - sparking the investigation into the rich-lister.

The businessman denied the allegation, later telling police and the court he was trying to help the young man. A trial was initially scheduled for September 2017.

However, on the eve of the District Court trial the Crown disclosed police were investigating the possibility the businessman and his associates had attempted to pay-off the complainant.

Two months later another victim also came forward to police, alleging the rich-lister had also indecently assaulted him after a dinner meeting at the businessman's home.

He would tell a jury he "believed that I had been drugged" by the businessman before being groped.

The rich-lister again denied the claims and said he couldn't recall ever meeting the complainant.

The Gold Coast plot

What had transpired after the wealthy Kiwi was first accused of a crime would result in charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice for himself, his manager and the entertainer.

The entertainer had organised a meeting with the first complainant at an Auckland cafe in April 2016. It was an effort to stop the victim testifying in court but was covertly recorded by the complainant.

"Sometimes the system is just so against you," the entertainer can be heard telling him.

"That's why you can make the whole thing, if you want to, disappear."

He told the young man: "Absolve it, get rid of it, let's get you started on this career, and let me ascertain some funds from [the businessman] at some point - which won't be hard, I can assure you of that.

"He has enough money to buy people to survive."

The entertainer also offered the man a $15,000 cheque, which he said would clear once his allegations were withdrawn.

A second attempt to stop the complainant in May 2017 would become known as the "Gold Coast plot".

The rich-lister sought the services of a PR firm, which was linked to a prominent political figure, and later told the court it was to manage reputational damage to himself and his business interests.

"[The political figure] was someone who was very good at solving public relations problems," he said.

He claimed to have heard rumours the first complainant was on the verge of selling his story to the press in Australia, where his name suppression order might be ignored and unenforceable.

The businessman told the court he had "absolutely no knowledge" of what eventuated on the Gold Coast and described it as a "strange amateur attempt" and "stupid expedition".

"As a businessman, lawyer, [with] some decades of experience, the last thing I would have done is launch that foolish expedition," he said.

He denied he would ever order such a "batty attempt", which he said was "certain to fail".

The Crown, however, alleged the businessman was throwing money at another effort to have the complainant silenced.

Two PR consultants - posing as New York talent agents - and the entertainer flew to Queensland where a meeting was organised with the complainant at the five-star Palazzo Versace hotel.

A conversation between the PR pair and complainant, on the balcony of one of the suites, was recorded by one of the consultants.

There was talk of a large sum of cash being offered in exchange for the case against the businessman being dismissed. The young man told the PR duo he would consider dropping his claims for $750,000 but was informed for such a wild amount "a life could be taken".

After refusing to return to New Zealand to drop his case, the complainant contacted the detective in charge of the investigation, Anthony Darvill, and told him about the hotel meeting.

The PR couple were later granted immunity from prosecution by the Solicitor-General in exchange for their evidence.

Prosecutors would show the jury bank transfers which they said was a series of payments - totalling $56,000 - paid by the rich-lister to the PR firm.

Both the manager's lawyer Rachael Reed QC and Jones, however, accused the PR couple of lying for their own benefit. Reed said they "have played their position perfectly" and offered a bigger fish to police to avoid the prospect of prison.

In April 2018, police charged the rich-lister with his second indecent assault charge from February 2008.

He was also charged alongside his manager and the entertainer with attempting to dissuade the first complainant from giving evidence with bribes and promises future work opportunities.

Again denying the charges, all three progressed to a trial which began in March 2019.

The Family Bar tape and talk of a body bag emerges

The trial never finished.

After two weeks of evidence, Judge Russell Collins aborted it - the reason for which can now be reported.

It was the shocking emergence of what became known as the Family Bar tape, found on the phone of a one of the PR consultant's nieces.

Less than 24 hours after returning from the Gold Coast, the PR duo sat down with the rich-lister's manager at the gay bar on Karangahape Rd. Again the conversation was recorded by one of the PR workers.

One of the consultants can be heard raising the possibility of intimidating the complainant.

The businessman's manager agreed and said: "Yeah, because it sounds to me if it was a reasonable person with a real kind of comprehensive hold on reality, you could make an offer that's reasonable and they would accept."

He also mentions a seemingly joking discussion he had with the businessman about sending the complainant to Turkey to have him killed in a "traffic accident".

The PR consultant also mentioned he knew a friend who could help arrange "a deal or put him in a body bag", the court heard.

"No, I'm not joking, no, I'm not joking," the consultant said.

The manager said the rich-lister appeared concerned about his legacy, the lack of a deal, and the prospect of spending more money on alleged attempts to dissuade the complainant.

"The only thing that pisses him off and makes him get cold feet is when he feels like it's a slippery slope and it won't get a resolution," the manager said.

"So because he got burnt by [the entertainer] and because this first mission didn't succeed, [the businessman] is going to be very hard to convince on my part to get into this ... he's going to say 'and here we go again, first we lost that much dosh and now we've lost this much dosh'.

"He's happy to bleed if it gets resolved ... But he's thinking it's never getting resolved ... and we're going to end up in court with everyone knowing."

The PR consultant said he "ain't going down for this sh*t".

He told the court last month he knew what he was doing was "wrong and potentially criminal".

"We all left ourselves exposed, frankly, and we were all involved."

The PR workers' immunity was reviewed after the emergence of the Family Bar tape, however, they would remain safe from prosecution.

Reed said her client had no knowledge about what was planned for the Gold Coast meeting.

"If anyone came up with this outrageous, stupid criminal plan, then it was on the Gold Coast and it was [the entertainer]," she said.

A later meeting between the entertainer and PR consultants was held where the entertainer shared a flow chart of the scheme he had drawn up.

"He just wanted us to stick to one story, all of us," one the PR workers told the court.

Another allegation against the rich-lister

After the first trial was aborted, a third man came forward to police alleging the rich-lister had indecently assaulted them in the early 2000s.

Again it was another dinner and business meeting.

The wealthy Kiwi's legal team said the man's evidence was a fanciful and false story.

The complainant told the court last month he felt an uncomfortable "vibe in the room".

"He found me attractive and there was a reason why I was there alone," he said. "There was a reason he invited me to the house and that it may not have been for business."

The pair went for a tour of the businessman's home after dinner, he explained, but the wealthy Kiwi was seemingly lurking behind him.

Then the businessman asked to "go upstairs for a cuddle", the complainant recalled.

"It's just a cuddle," the businessman told him. "What's wrong with a cuddle?"

The businessman then grabbed his guest from behind and said: "Let's just go up."

The man recalled the rich-lister being surprisingly strong.

"I said, 'look thanks for the evening and I'm going to go'."

As he walked to his car on the driveway, the complainant said he offered to shake the businessman's hand.

"At that point [the businessman] grabbed my trousers and yanked them outwards and stuck his hand down my pants," he told the court.

"His hand was hard, he was just grabbing.

"I just remember this sort of smell, this sort of sweaty, musky, alcohol smell."

The man said he was shaken and just wanted to leave.

"The last thing I recall is seeing him in the rear-view mirror."

Years went by with the man only telling his partner of what happened, he said.

"I guess I was also a little bit embarrassed. I didn't want to appear weak that I'd let this man get his hand into my pants."

The third attempt at the trial is finally completed in February and March 2021.