Prominent businessman’s trial: Immunity witness tells of alleged Gold Coast plot to pay off complainant

A politically connected immunity witness says he was hired to help stop a “victim from testifying in court” against a wealthy New Zealand businessman.

The rich-lister, who has name suppression, is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of indecently assaulting three men in the early 2000s, 2008 and 2016.

He is also charged with twice trying to pervert the course of justice by offering a bribe for the 2016 complainant to drop their allegations.

The accused denies the charges.

Today, the jury heard from a witness with political connections, who has name suppression and was granted immunity from prosecution by the Solicitor-General in exchange for his evidence for the Crown.

The PR expert – one of two immunity witnesses – told the court he met a well-known entertainer to discuss the plight of a businessman who needed support in a court case.

He was later introduced by the entertainer to the wealthy Kiwi’s manager at a political party event, the court heard.

Further details about a potential job were discussed, the immunity witness said, and it became clear he was to “stop a victim from testifying in court”.

The target was the 2016 complainant – the first of the businessman’s three alleged victims to come forward to police, which led to an initial charge being filed in February 2017.

However, the immunity witness told the court he wasn’t sold on the idea and when discussing a fee for his services he tried to price himself out of the alleged plot.

“I’ve always been very cautious, obviously not cautious enough,” he said. “I knew whatever I was going to need to do, I was going to be uncomfortable.”

But the alleged scheming continued and the money, a total of $56,000, started to arrive “in odd bits”, the witness said.

He explained the manager would first seek clearance from the businessman before any funds were transferred.

“It wasn’t his money,” the witness said of the manager. “I understood I was dealing with the right-hand man.”

He added the deposits were also supposed to look like legitimate business dealings to avoid suspicious-looking transactions.

“I don’t want cash in a suitcase,” the immunity witness said.

The rich-lister’s manager, who has name suppression, is also on trial and denies trying to pervert the course of justice.

The alleged plot to stop the complainant, the immunity witness said, came after the businessman “wasted $40,000” on his lawyer, David Jones QC, without the case being dismissed.

“I was being paid to go and dissuade [the complainant] from going to court and getting him to withdraw his statement from police.”

The plan, the witness said, led to a May 2017 meeting on the Gold Coast with the complainant and another PR professional at the five-star Palazzo Versace hotel.

“We were trying to get him into a position of not being a credible witness,” the man said.

The complainant, however, rejected a contract offer and told New Zealand police about the meeting.

Within 24 hours of returning to Auckland from the Gold Coast, the two PR workers met the businessman’s manager at a central city bar.

The meeting was secretly recorded by one of the workers on their phone and part of the audio file was played to the jury today.

The entertainer has already pleaded guilty to two charges of trying to pervert the course of justice for his efforts to have the 2016 complainant drop the allegations, including an earlier attempt in April 2017.

He has name suppression and is due to be sentenced next month.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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