Judge clears O'Brien of trying to deceive Internal Affairs investigator

KAT PICKFORD
Last updated 09:33 28/02/2013

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The Department of Internal Affairs case against a Blenheim man with a long history in the horse racing industry has been quashed by a judge.

Michael O'Brien appeared in the Blenheim District Court yesterday charged with making a false statement with intent to deceive.

Judge Tony Zohrab ruled in favour of Mr O'Brien's lawyer, Dean Russ, who said there was no case to answer because the alleged offending did not fit the criteria of the law Mr O'Brien had been charged under - section 242 of the Crimes Act.

Outide court, Mr O'Brien did not wish to comment on the judge's verdict, other than to say "it was expected".

The prosecutor for the Department of Internal Affairs, Robin McCoubrey, called four witnesses to support the department's case that Mr O'Brien had made a false statement during a meeting with a department official in October 2009.

The Department of Internal Affairs had been trying to rule out any involvement between Mr O'Brien and the Blue Grass Trust. This was because one of the trust's directors, Patrick O'Brien, was his father, and had applied for a license to operate gaming machines.

In a meeting between Mr O'Brien and Department of Internal Affairs senior investigator gambling inspector Rob Brook in October 2009, Mr O'Brien denied having anything to do with the trust.

Following the department's assessment of the key people behind the Blue Grass Trust, its licence to operate gaming machines was approved in December 2009.

But the department later found bank statements showing Mr O'Brien had received a total of $300,000 from the Kaikoura Trotting Club, the Marlborough Harness Racing Club and the Nelson Harness Racing Club in September 2009. The bank records showed that upon receiving the money, Mr O'Brien transferred it to his father's account. His father then passed the money to the Blue Grass Trust bank account.

Mr McCoubrey said Mr O'Brien's denial of having anything to do with the trust was deliberately misleading with intent to deceive the investigation.

However, Mr Russ argued there was no case because a "clear literal reading of section 242 [of the Crimes Act] did not allow the prosecution".

"They simply cannot hang the case on the charge," Mr Russ said.

Judge Zohrab said that initially he did not favour Mr Russ's argument but, when he applied the specific words of the legislation, he found in favour of the defence.

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