ZB

NZ First Foundation case: Identities of accused pair permanently suppressed

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Jul 2022, 10:45am

NZ First Foundation case: Identities of accused pair permanently suppressed

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Jul 2022, 10:45am

A High Court judge has permanently suppressed the identities of two men accused of fraud over donations to the NZ First Foundation.

Justice Pheroze Jagose, who presided over the pair's trial last month, said the identities of the accused were "less important" than the role they played and "open justice largely has been met" in the case.

The duo, who were charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) just before the 2020 general election, will now maintain their secrecy from the public.

Verdicts in the case are expected on Friday.

Today's decision comes despite earlier court rulings declining suppression and ordering it to lapse at the start of trial unless a new bid for anonymity was made. A new application by the first defendant was argued last week.

Despite not applying for suppression, the second defendant has also remained nameless because the court has ruled identifying him risks revealing his co-accused.

The SFO alleges the men operated a fraudulent scheme to conceal nearly $750,000 in NZ First donations.

They faced and denied two charges each of obtaining by deception during a judge-alone trial which traversed the inner-workings of the NZ First Foundation — reported to have bankrolled the political party.

A consortium of media organisations, including the Herald's publisher NZME, have long fought to name the accused men.

Before the 2020 general election, media took legal action in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to inform voters before the polls opened.

The NZ First Party also failed in a bid to stop the charges from becoming public until after a government was formed.

A decision on whether the media organisations will seek to have another judge revoke Justice Jagose's decision is yet to be made.

Justice Pheroze Jagose said "open justice largely has been met" in the case without knowing the identities of the accused. Photo / Michael Craig

Justice Pheroze Jagose said "open justice largely has been met" in the case without knowing the identities of the accused. Photo / Michael Craig

Much of Justice Jagose's decision, including the reason for the permanent suppression, cannot be reported due to the gag order, which forbids the publication of the names, addresses and occupations of the accused.

"Except for publication of any particulars tending to identify [the accused], open justice largely has been met in this proceeding," his judgment reads.

"Media attendance at and reports and accounts of trial did not observably lack for publishable information. [The accused's] identity is less important than the role he played in the conduct at issue under the charges."

The judge said the first accused "played that role from the backroom, relatively isolated from public view".

While Justice Jagose said the public has "some right to know of his identity even in or perhaps because of those shadows", publication of his name would constitute extreme hardship.

"The balance 'clearly favours' suppression," he ruled.

Justice Jagose also made comments about media coverage of suppression matters and appeared to suggest members of the public could nonetheless know the identities of charged individuals if they were purposeful.

"Despite media's persistent characterisation as such, name suppression does not make the name-suppressed person's identity secret, but only prohibits publication 'in the context of any report or account relating to the proceeding' of anything likely to lead to their identification," the judge said.

"By default, criminal proceedings remain held in courts open to the public, in which name-suppressed defendants nonetheless are identifiable and identified."

Justice Jagose also dismissed the argument from the first defendant's lawyer, Gregory Thwaite, that the integrity of New Zealand's democracy and elections were at risk if his client was named.

He said Thwaite's claims "even if sound, lack any factual foundation".