Plan to sell railway station for casino

HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND TIM DONOGHUE
Last updated 05:00 17/09/2012
Ngatata Love
Maarten Holl/ FAIRFAX NZ
Ngatata Love

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Sir Ngatata Love offered to sell Wellington railway station to a would-be casino developer as his partner Lorraine Skiffington sought a $35 million consultancy deal on the same development.

Ms Skiffington offered to provide "strategic project management services . . . to ensure the successful progress of this development", and also sought a "good faith" payment of $2.5m from Loizos Michaels, who was fronting the development group.

Michaels will face a fraud trial next month, on charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

Ms Skiffington proposed that, for her role in the development of a "major landmark hotel, convention and entertainment centre" at the railway station, she be paid:

- A $4m signing fee.

- $7m to secure ownership of the railway station, social hall and adjoining land on Waterloo Quay.

- A two-year "operational budget" of $9m, including $1.125m on signing.

- $7m to be paid directly to her for the "transfer of intellectual property".

- $8m for securing air rights above the station, including $2m up front.

The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust acquired the right to buy the railway station in 2009, as part of its Treaty of Waitangi settlement with the Crown.

Documents obtained by The Dominion Post show that, in January 2010, Sir Ngatata said he had entered into a sale and purchase agreement for the railway station, built in 1937, with a group fronted by Michaels.

"A formal sale and purchase agreement will be presented for signing," Sir Ngatata wrote. "This agreement has my full support as chairman of the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust."

Last month, Sir Ngatata stood down as chairman of a series of Maori trusts after allegations of secret payments emerged in the fraud trial of two Wellington accountants, Barrie James Skinner and David Ingram Rowley, who were both jailed for eight years.

The pair were closely involved in efforts to get international investors on board for the railway project.

Since details of the alleged secret payments emerged, the Serious Fraud Office has announced an investigation into the Wellington Tenths Trust over possibly unlawful payments and transactions.

Earlier this month, The Dominion Post revealed how Sir Peter Jackson's plans to build a world-class film museum in Shelly Bay were scuppered when Ms Skiffington sought $750,000 in consultancy fees to help secure the land.

A "services agreement" she offered Jackson was similar to that offered to assist the casino development, although the latter was on a much larger scale.

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The casino plans came to nothing. Two Tenths Trust trustees have said they had no idea of Sir Ngatata's agreement to enter talks for such a development, or of Ms Skiffington's proposals.

One was "horrified" at the idea of being involved in a casino development. "I wouldn't want a casino within 50 miles."

The Serious Fraud Office was aware of dealings Michaels was having in Wellington in relation to the casino, although it is not part of the case being brought against him.

He is accused of conning prominent figures on both sides of the Tasman, including convincing Jonah Lomu that he could become the global face of kickboxing.

Bruce Farquhar, lawyer for Sir Ngatata and Ms Skiffington, issued a brief statement in response to questions about the railway station development. "Given the current circumstances, our advice to Sir Ngatata and Ms Skiffington remains that, until the impending inquiry is concluded, they should not make any comment in relation to these matters," he said.

THE STORY SO FAR


Sir Ngatata Love stood down last month from all his trustee roles representing Maori, days before the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it was investigating the Wellington Tenths Trust.

Problems arose for Sir Ngatata and partner Lorraine Skiffington when details of a payment from Auckland property developers, which ended up in their joint personal account, emerged in a High Court decision from the trial of convicted fraudsters David Ingram Rowley and Barrie James Skinner.

Justice Kos said a company jointly owned by Ms Skiffington was paid $1.4 million by two Auckland property developers seeking involvement in Tenths Trust developments. Payments were forwarded to entities controlled by Skinner and Rowley, with $1.02m directed into an account Ms Skiffington held with Sir Ngatata.

During the trial, Ms Skiffington faced accusations from Skinner and Rowley's lawyer, Mike Lennard, that the payments were secret commissions, structured to be concealed from anyone with an interest in the Tenths Trust. "Absolutely not," she responded.

It has since emerged that a plan by Sir Peter Jackson to build a museum to house his Lord of the Rings props on Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust land at Shelly Bay fell over after Ms Skiffington wrote to Jackson seeking consultancy payments of $750,000.

WORTH A GAMBLE?

WELLINGTON RAILWAY STATION

The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust was given two years to decide whether it wished to buy Wellington railway station when the Treaty settlement was finally signed in 2009.

Trustees negotiated a further five-year extension and now have a right to purchase the landmark capital site until 2016.

In 2010 Sir Ngatata Love indicated he was willing to enter a sale and purchase agreement with a supposed casino developer, while his partner attempted to secure a multimillion-dollar consultancy deal on the project.

- The Dominion Post

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