Public servant admits accepting $160,000 bribe

THIRTY-YEAR CAREER OVER: ACC's former national property manager, Malcolm Mason, leaves  Wellington District Court.
THIRTY-YEAR CAREER OVER: ACC's former national property manager, Malcolm Mason, leaves Wellington District Court.

A senior public servant ruined a three-decade career for a $160,000 cash bribe and a $9000 holiday in Singapore.

Malcolm David Mason, 50, of Miramar, Wellington, joined ACC straight from school at 18 and worked his way up to one of the most senior positions as national property manager, responsible for procuring premises around the country.

Mason, who is married with two children, was fired in March last year after ACC began an investigation into allegations that he had taken an unauthorised gift. It called in the Serious Fraud Office.

It was revealed that he received $160,000 from a businessman after telling the man the name of a building in Whangarei that ACC was looking to lease. The man bought the building and, later, another of his companies sold it at a profit because of the security of ACC's long-term tenure.

Then, in 2008, Mason went to the Singapore Grand Prix with a developer who won a $1 million commission for acting as a broker when ACC leased the Vogel building in Wellington. Mason had his accommodation paid at the Swissotel, a five-star hotel next to the grand prix track. The cost of the trip was more than $9000.

Yesterday in Wellington District Court, Mason pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges. He is eligible for up to seven years in jail on the bribery charge.

The Crown is expected to file a profit forfeiture order in the High Court. Mason is not expected to oppose an order being made to pay the money back. The money will go to the Crown.

SFO chief executive Adam Feeley said yesterday that Mason's was the only bribery charge it had brought in the past four years.

Corruption cases were rare in New Zealand and it was important to deal with them swiftly to maintain public confidence.

"New Zealand has a hard-earned reputation for very low levels of corruption, and that reputation needs to be protected by constant vigilance by government agencies, along with public co-operation in reporting untoward activities."

The State Services Commission says on its website: "Public servants must not abuse their official position for personal gain. They must not solicit or accept gifts, rewards or benefits which might compromise their integrity and the integrity of their department and the public service.

"As a general rule, a public servant should not accept a gift (whatever its nature or value) if the gift could be seen by others as either an inducement or a reward which might place the employee under an obligation to a third party."

Spokesman Jason Ryan said it was still considered that New Zealand had one of the least corrupt public sectors.

ACC Minister Nick Smith congratulated the SFO on securing the conviction.

"No system of internal audit will ever cover for a dishonest staff member. It is an extremely serious matter when we have a public servant entrusted with public money acting in anything other than total integrity in securing services like building matters."

He was satisfied that ACC had responded properly.

Mason did not comment outside court yesterday. He was remanded on bail until next month for sentencing. Three other men connected with the case have name suppression.

The Dominion Post