New Zealand's biggest fraud trial will be held in the High Court at Timaru and heard by a judge alone.
The decision was released at 3.30pm yesterday by Justice Paul Heath, following the second day of pre-trial applications for the South Canterbury Finance (SCF) trial.
The case arose out of the $1.58 billion collapse of the finance company in 2010.
On Tuesday a single charge of false accounting against SCF's former chief financial officer, Graeme Robert Brown, was dropped.
Following that three defendants, Edward Sullivan, Robert White and Lachie McLeod, were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to a total of 18 charges, which were brought by the Serious Fraud Office in December 2011.
Accountant Terrence Hutton was not arraigned and did not enter a plea, with his charges to be the subject of further discussion.
The application for the trial to be judge-alone, rather than being heard by a jury, was heard yesterday and opposed by White and Sullivan.
The Crown's application for a change of venue from Timaru to Christchurch was also heard yesterday and dismissed. Justice Heath indicated he would give his reasons for the decisions in writing later.
He also allowed a hearsay statement "from a witness who is no longer available" to be admitted at trial. "Counsel were agreed that, in the event of the trial being held on a judge-alone basis, the application could be granted."
Justice Heath raised concerns about the complexity of the trial and the likelihood of the average juror understanding the issues.
The pool of jurors available in Timaru was a concern raised by the Crown, with 3486 investors of SCF recorded as having a Timaru address. Another issue was the ability to get the witnesses to the court if the Timaru airport was closed due to fog. Accommodation costs in both centres were also discussed.
To have the trial moved, the Crown needed to supply reasons which would override the principle that justice should be seen to be done in the area where the alleged offences occurred.
Sullivan is a retired Timaru lawyer and former SCF director.
White is a retired Timaru accountant and former SCF board member and director. McLeod is the former SCF chief executive.
The accused were remanded on bail for the rest of the pre-trial hearings, which continue today. Most of Tuesday's legal discussions were suppressed by Justice Heath.
The 12- to 16-week trial has been set down to start on March 12.
McLeod has applied for a discharge under Section 347. The application was heard yesterday and the decision reserved.
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