Call for new SFO probe into Port Nicholson

TIM DONOGHUE AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 10:22 10/09/2012
Jason Fox
MAARTON HOLL/Dominion Post

BACKED: The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust endorsed lawyer Jason Fox's call for a new structure to control its commercial activities.

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Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust beneficiaries want a new commercial board established to oversee the trust's business affairs.

Delegates attending the trust's annual meeting at Pipitea Marae on Saturday unanimously endorsed Wellington-based lawyer Jason Fox's call for a new structure to take control of the trust's commercial activities as soon as possible.

Under the proposal new commercial board members would be appointed by the elected trustees.

Trustees, however, are not bound by the meeting's decisions, so at this stage it is unclear if the suggested change will be implemented.

Mr Fox, chief executive of the Ngati Whatua o Kaipara post settlement governance entity, also wrote to the Serious Fraud Office yesterday.

He wants it to extend its Tenths Trust investigation to include the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust.

Sir Ngatata Love stood down as chairman of both trusts last month pending the outcome of an SFO investigation into possible unlawful payments and transactions at the Tenths Trust.

Mr Fox said a report in Saturday's Dominion Post - that Sir Peter Jackson's Shelly Bay film museum project plans were abandoned in 2008 after Sir Ngatata's partner Lorraine Skiffington proposed a $750,000 consultancy deal - had been the catalyst for his new commercial board proposal.

Sir Peter and partner Fran Walsh declined Ms Skiffington's proposed deal.

Mr Fox wants the SFO to include all major commercial transactions of the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust - from 2008-2012 - in its investigation.

Shelly Bay had cost the trust about $13 million and represented more than 45 per cent of its commercial assets, he said.

"Four years later Shelly Bay returns around one per cent . . . the resulting commercial breakdown between Jackson and the trust effectively created a serious economic loss to the trust which now cannot be revisited," Mr Fox said.

Both trustees and beneficiaries said that news of Ms Skiffington's proposed deal had taken them completely by surprise.

Meanwhile, results of the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust elections are expected to be published tomorrow.

Sir Ngatata was one of 13 candidates standing for five positions.

He did not attend Saturday's meeting.

Interim chairman Mahara Okeroa has been unavailable for comment following Saturday's meeting.

The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust was established in August 2008 to receive, administer and manage a Treaty settlement with four main iwi, known as the Taranaki Whanui.

Ms Skiffington and Sir Ngatata have consistently declined invitations to comment following the launching of last month's SFO investigation.

Contact Hamish Rutherford
Business reporter
Email: hamish.rutherford@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @oneforthedr

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- The Dominion Post

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