Fraudster David Ross awaits appeal decision

David Ross was behind New Zealand's biggest single fraud.
David Ross was behind New Zealand's biggest single fraud.

There is "nothing useful" in the "stern" and "unreasonably crushing" minimum jail term imposed on David Ross, the fraudster's lawyer says.

In November Ross, 64, was jailed for 10 years and 10 months for operating a fraudulent scheme in which private investors lost about $115 million. It was described as the single biggest fraud in New Zealand's history

His company, Ross Asset Management, fleeced at least 700 investors through portfolios in which they thought they had more than $380m.

Ross' appeal against the minimum non-parole period of five years and five months, half his full sentence, was heard in the High Court at Wellington this morning.

The sentence was equivalent to roughly one day for every $60,000 he stole from investors.

His lawyer, Gary Turkington, was appealing on the grounds it was "manifestly excessive".

Today he questioned the point of such a lengthy minimum sentence, saying it was "just too much".

Ross would be 68 by the time he was eligible for parole, though this was by no means a "get out of jail free card" in itself.

He would be "well into his twilight years," Turkington said.

A minimum non-parole period of four years was sought, accounting for Ross' personal circumstances in the case.

The non-parole period of anyone serving a sentence of imprisonment of more than one year is usually a third of that sentence, which in Ross' case would equate to just over three years.

During sentencing at the end of Ross' trial Judge Denys Barry said he was a liar and a thief on a scale unprecedented in New Zealand.

Today Turkington said Ross was allowed a "worthwhile existence" and it was accepted he was responsible for a very bad fraud which caused incalculable harm.

"He, on that basis, has done what he can to make up," he said.

But appeal Justice Geoffrey Venning said today that the difference between four years and the sentence did not seem significant enough.

"There's a number of investors that age or older who have no prospect of rehabilitation of losses," he said.

Turkington said Ross would emerge with nothing, and that seemed fair enough, rather than letting him dwell without hope in prison.

Crown lawyer Mathew Downs said there was little to commend Ross' case.

The offending was of an unprecedented scale over more than a decade and there had been a profound impact on a number of victims, he said.

"Many of those people are also in their twilight years," he said.

Justices Venning, French and Mallon reserved their decision.

Ross, 64, has been in prison for about nine months, and has already been granted temporary removal twice for medical reasons.

The appeal was filed less than a month after Ross was sentenced, which investors labelled as a "poke in the eye" and "slap in the face".

In August, Ross pleaded guilty to four charges of false accounting and one of theft by a person in a special relationship.

He also pleaded guilty to providing false information to the Financial Markets Authority in applying to become an authorised financial adviser.

The prosecution was brought by the authority and the Serious Fraud Office.