Accused could face $1.3m bill

EMMA BAILEY
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014
scf trial
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

TRIAL STARTS: Arraigned in the dock at the start of the $1.58b South Canterbury Finance fraud case, from left, are Edward Sullivan, Robert White and Lachie McLeod.

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The legal bill for the three South Canterbury Finance defendants is likely to exceed $1 million, according to an expert.

Legal Best Practice director Ashley Balls said it will be costing the defence at least $10,000 a day and at worst $20,000 a day in lawyers' fees.

So far there have been 37 sitting days, which at $20,000 a day is $740,000; and there are potentially 27 sitting days to go, which could cost up to $540,000.

Former SCF directors Edward Sullivan and Robert White and former chief executive Lachie McLeod face a combined 18 charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The trial began on March 12 and is set down to last to the end of June.

It is New Zealand's biggest fraud trial. It has been adjourned until Thursday for a disclosure hearing, with evidence being sought from the Financial Markets Authority (FMA).

On top of lawyers' fees the defendants will be fronting up for the accommodation and travel costs as well as work done in preparation for the trial, and the costs of witnesses they plan to call, Balls said.

The number of witnesses has not been outlined.

The Timaru Herald will seek information on the Crown costs from the Crown Law Office following the trial.

"They may not be paying by the hour. With long trials it is quite common for a fixed price to be set," Balls said.

"The hourly rate is likely to be $400, $500 or $600 an hour. Then there are expenses and also hours spent preparing.

"Expert witnesses can cost up to $3000 a day."

Sullivan has three counsel including a Queen's Counsel (QC), and White and McLeod are both represented by QCs.

Balls is the founding director of consulting firm Legal Best Practice. Prior to founding it, he worked in London with a firm of consultants servicing the legal profession.

CROWN'S WITNESS APPLICATION DECLINED

The Crown has had a late application to call a Treasury witness to give evidence on the most serious charge in the South Canterbury Finance (SCF) trial declined.

The trial of former SCF directors Edward Sullivan and Robert White and former chief executive Lachie McLeod is being heard by Justice Paul Heath in the High Court at Timaru.

The trio face a combined 18 charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

In a judgment released yesterday, Justice Heath denied the application to call senior Treasury official Dr Brian McCulloch. His proposed evidence relates to count 10 of the indictment.

"Count 10 is the most serious charge in the indictment. It arises out of South Canterbury's application to be admitted to the Crown guarantee scheme," Justice Heath said in his judgment.

"Broadly speaking, the Crown alleges that the three accused were parties to the provision of documents to Treasury which each knew contained false statements about the extent of related party transactions.

"The Crown contends that had the correct information been disclosed, South Canterbury Finance's application would either have been deferred for more detailed information to be obtained, or rejected outright."

The Crown has already called Treasury witness John Park, who was involved in the management of the Crown guarantee scheme in 2009.

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"His evidence concluded on the last sitting day before the Easter break, a Wednesday," the judgment said.

"The following day, the Crown informed counsel for the accused that it intended to call Dr McCulloch as an additional witness, to give evidence on the same topics with which Mr Park had dealt."

McCulloch was originally not called because it would have been too difficult for him to come to Timaru for the trial.

"Dr McCulloch cannot add anything of significance to explain the documents that were put to Mr Park.

"I have no doubt that the need to allow time to the accused to prepare adequately for Dr McCulloch's cross-examination before closure of the Crown case would significantly delay the trial and put completion of the hearing within that time in severe jeopardy," Justice Heath said.

"By the end of June 2014, the trial will have been running for about four months.

"The need for further inquiries to be undertaken and the likely lengthening of the expected duration of the trial would add significantly to the cost being incurred by the accused in defending the charges.

He said that to use the phrase adopted by Justice Elias in the David Bain case, "exclusion of relevant evidence is concerned with whether the importance of the relationship with proof is ‘worth the price to be paid by admitting it in evidence'. In my view, in this case, it is not."

- The Timaru Herald

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