Fraudster sentenced to jail

SENTENCED: Gerard Otimi arrived at Manukau District Court with a supporter, left, who disrupted proceedings.
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
SENTENCED: Gerard Otimi arrived at Manukau District Court with a supporter, left, who disrupted proceedings.

A Maori activist who sold false passports to Pacific Island overstayers has been sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The sentencing took more than an hour and turned into a farce as his supporters tried to disrupt proceedings.

Gerard Teoi Otimi was convicted in April on more than 30 fraud charges after telling overstayers they could stay in New Zealand and become part of his hapu or family if they each paid him $500 for a passport stamp which turned out to be fake. 

SENTENCED: Gerard Otimi was sentenced to 18 months in jail despite a supporter, right, disrupting proceedings and challenging the judge.
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
SENTENCED: Gerard Otimi was sentenced to 18 months in jail despite a supporter, right, disrupting proceedings and challenging the judge.

The ruse was part of a long running immigration scam which was uncovered in 2009. It was not the first time he had engaged in fraudulent activity - he was previously convicted for selling warrant of fitness and driver licences to Maori people in a system separate to that already running in this country.

When Otimi was called to appear in the court on Friday his supporters challenged the law of the country. A man dressed in red and who called himself a sovereign counsellor and native assessor said the case could not go ahead as it would be a breach of Otimi's rights as a citizen of the sovereign Maori nation.

Otimi refused at first to stand in the dock and refused to speak throughout.

''With no prejudice or disrespect we have common law right. Show me and my people the statute right that gives you the right to override the common law of my nation, '' Otimi's supporter said.

The man said a sentence could only be adjudicated in the "proper courts" and those were court rooms one or three in the High Court at Auckland.

"This is our right and our soveriegn right and we will challenge it. "

Judge Gus Andree-Wiltens dealt swiftly with Otimi's supporters by telling them to sit down or leave the court.

''You are welcome to support Mr Otimi but we are going to deal with that sentencing now. He is free to challenge it through way of appeal.''

Counsel for Otimi then explained he wished to explore restorative justice and that he would seek to have the sentencing adjourned. His counsel then said he sought leave to withdraw as counsel of Otimi which was denied as was the request for adjournment.

His supporters were then given leave to speak to the court. The man in red again spoke of himself and Otimi as citizens of the sovereign land of Aotearoa not New Zealand. Another supporter asked for further adjournment.

Otimi faced 38 charges of altering a document with intent to cause loss. He has already been ordered to pay $12,500 in reparation to his victims and there is a further $28,500 outstanding. 

His sentencing had been adjourned at least twice because of his unwillingness to co-operate with probation officials.

In sentencing, Judge Andree-Wiltens said: "These were people who were in fear of their particular circumstances and you preyed upon them by offering them hope and it was completely false hope.''

"Today my hands are completely tied. I cannot sentence you to home detention."

He did however offer Otimi leave to apply for home detention.

- Auckland Now