Defamation action 'not about bankrupting' Andrew Little, Lani Hagaman says video

Lani Hagaman gives evidence in Andrew Little's defamation case at the High Court in Wellington.
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Lani Hagaman gives evidence in Andrew Little's defamation case at the High Court in Wellington.

The wife of a hotel owner suing Labour leader Andrew Little for defamation has denied wanting to bankrupt the politician over comments he made about a Niue resort deal.

Lani Hagaman, the wife of Scenic Hotel Group founder Earl Hagaman, said receiving an apology and legal costs were her main concern, during the second day of a civil jury trial at the High Court in Wellington.

The Hagamans are seeking $2.3 million in damages for comments Little made about a $101,000 donation they made to the National Party during the 2014 election, and a contract their Scenic Hotel Group won a month later to manage the Matavai resort in Niue, which receives government funding.

National Party president Peter Goodfellow said Scenic Hotel Group's Niue plans were not discussed when he received a ...
Cameron Burnell/ Fairfax NZ

National Party president Peter Goodfellow said Scenic Hotel Group's Niue plans were not discussed when he received a donation from the Hagamans during the 2014 election campaign.

During cross-examination by Little's counsel John Tizard, Lani Hagaman was asked why she had withdrawn an application which would have meant only costs could be awarded, not damages, in addition to a court declaration.

She said an apology and legal costs were her main priority, but she thought a law change meant the option was no longer available to her.

She confirmed she wanted the jury to award damages as close to the $2.3M damages figure as possible, saying "my husband's reputation is worth every penny of that".

Andrew Little's lawyer John Tizard cross-examined Lani Hagaman on the second day of the civil jury trial.
MONIQUE FORD / FAIRFAX NZ

Andrew Little's lawyer John Tizard cross-examined Lani Hagaman on the second day of the civil jury trial.

"My husband is dying in Christchurch, I'm fighting for his reputation for something that should have never happened, and Mr Little has had every opportunity for 12 months to come back to me."

However, she denied wanting to bankrupt Little over the case.

"Do I want to bankrupt someone? I don't want to bankrupt anybody."

Labour leader Andrew Little walks to court with his lawyer on the first day of a defamation trial.
MONIQUE FORD / FAIRFAX NZ

Labour leader Andrew Little walks to court with his lawyer on the first day of a defamation trial.

Little "should have got his facts sorted" before making comments about the hotel contract, as one phone call to Scenic Hotel Group would have clarified the situation.

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While there were discussions about an apology from Little last December, there was disagreement over the form it should take.

Scenic Hotel Group managing director Brendan Taylor told the court the company was told the management contract discussions for the resort needed to follow a "quite rigorous" tender and government process, while Scenic itself "made sure we played it to the book".

"I've been working on this project now for four years, I wasn't going to jeopardise everything."

Hagaman's donation to National never came up during the contract negotiations, and Taylor said he would have been "disgusted" if there was a connection between the two.

"Scenic as a company and myself as a CEO would never get into that kind of position."

Taylor said he had "fairly good autonomy" with negotiating acquisitions, due to the trust he had built up with the Hagamans over more than 20 years with their company, and Earl Hagaman was not involved in the deal.

National Party president Peter Goodfellow, who received the Hagamans' donation, said he arranged to meet the couple at their Christchurch home and was surprised when he saw the size of the donation.

He talked to the couple for about an hour, discussing the election campaign and the influence of Kim Dotcom.

While he talked "in general terms" about the contribution that Scenic Hotels had made to New Zealand, there was no discussion of the company's plans for Matavai resort.

The donation was disclosed to the Electoral Commission within 10 days as required by law, Goodfellow said.

The Hagamans' 19-year-old daughter, Toya, spoke about receiving a message on her Facebook page attacking her mother over Little's allegations.

Some of her friends had also made jokes about the deal, "implying that my family uses money, that we are corrupt pretty much, things that are quite unfair".

"I felt really upset because it's shown me that people make judgements about me and about my family because of things that have been said," Toya said.

The case will continue on Wednesday.

 - Stuff

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