Prominent businessman's trial: Man recalls being allegedly groped at meeting

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Feb 2021, 3:34PM
Auckland High Court. (Photo / File)
Auckland High Court. (Photo / File)

Prominent businessman's trial: Man recalls being allegedly groped at meeting

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Feb 2021, 3:34PM

A man has recalled how a wealthy and prominent New Zealander allegedly groped him during a business meeting.

The rich-lister is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of indecently assaulting three men on separate occasions in the early 2000s, 2008 and 2016.

He is also charged with twice attempting to pervert the course of justice by offering a bribe for one of the complainants to drop their allegations.

The well-known Kiwi denies the charges and continues to enjoy name suppression.

Today, the jury heard from the man allegedly assaulted at the businessman's home in the early 2000s.

He recalled first meeting the wealthy man at a cocktail party before later making contact with him about a business opportunity.

The complainant described the businessman as someone known for having political connections, including with a former prime minister, as well as being a noted leader in his industry.

The two decided to met and discuss their business prospect, the man told the court, with the wealthy Kiwi inviting him to his Auckland home for dinner in about December 2000 or January 2001.

Upon his arrival, the complainant said he was handed a heavy tumbler with whisky.

"It was neat so I didn't really want it to be honest," he said. "I sort of nursed it ... He seemed a little insulted when I wasn't drinking.

"I'm not really refined enough to be a whisky and tumbler type person."

But he felt uneasy about the situation when he learned it was just him for dinner, the court heard.

"I had already minor misgivings about going to his house or dinner. Being there alone suddenly changed the evening ... I guess I kept my eye on what I was there to do," he said of the business opportunity.

The complainant said he felt "a vibe in the room", which continued to make him uncomfortable.

"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."

However, the man said he wanted to be polite when rejecting what he believed were sexual suggestions by the businessman.

"I need to keep this man happy, he's my host," he recalled thinking.

Some wine was had with dinner and another person briefly joined them as further drinks were offered, he said, but he did not wish to continue because he was driving.

"I felt like I was being plied with alcohol," he said.

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

"He's not close enough to touch me but he's right there," the man said.

"Each step just felt like he was getting that little bit closer."

The businessman also began making critical remarks about his guest's body, the court heard.

"He was just so close, he was just looking me over critically," the complainant said. "Like I was an object ... It was quite caustic, it was quite cruel. Beneath the veneer of charm there was a cruelty."

The businessman's advances continued and included an invitation on a European skiing trip, the man told the jury.

"I just wanted to get out, I'd endured a dinner."

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

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

The complainant told the court: "Of course by now I'm really uncomfortable and feeling really unsafe."

After declining, the businessman allegedly grabbed his guest from behind and said: "Let's just go up."

The man recalled the rich-lister being surprisingly strong.

"He was strong, he's larger than me, he grabbed me and held me."

The man said he told his host: "I do not want to go upstairs with you."

"He was holding me tight," he said, before he wriggled free.

"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.

"One hand in my pants, he managed to get underneath my underwear ... I was a little bit slimmer then, all my clothes a little bit looser."

The businessman began grabbing his guest's genitals, the court heard.

"His hand was hard, he was just grabbing.

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

The rough face from the businessman's five o'clock shadow also rubbed against him, he said.

"There was a look in his eyes just before he did it, as I went to shake his hand. He looked sort of desperate, sort of sad."

What felt like a long time was likely only seconds, the man said.

"I pulled his hand out .. that was hard, he was strong," he said. "His fingernails were scratchy down there ... As I yanked his hand out his fingernail scratched the inside of my thigh."

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 and trying to "shake it off, to get over it", 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."

In December 2018, he said he was following the MeToo movement when his memories of the evening came flooding back.

"This is the first time I'd really thought about it for years," he said. "I wrote down some notes, some things that had happened that night."

Later, in March 2019, he was reading news articles about an Auckland trial involving a well-known businessman accused of indecently assaulting two men at this home.

"I knew it was [him]," he said. "The facts were just familiar."

It would ultimately led to him going to police with his complaint, while the March 2019 trial was aborted for reasons which remain suppressed.

Defence lawyer David Jones QC has accused the complainant of fabricating his story.

The businessman, who continues to have interim name suppression, faces three charges of indecent assault.

He is further accused of twice attempting to pervert the course of justice in 2017 by trying to dissuade the 2016 complainant with payment of $15,000 and the offer of future work opportunities.

The prominent Kiwi's manager, who also has name suppression, is on trial alongside him and jointly faces a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice for attempting to dissuade the 2016 complainant.

A third defendant, a well-known entertainer, has already pleaded guilty to two charges for his efforts to have the same complainant withdrawal their allegations

He is due to be sentenced next month.

The trial is expected to last about five weeks.