New Zealand Law Society - Former trustee of Māori fund pleads guilty to fraud mid-trial

Former trustee of Māori fund pleads guilty to fraud mid-trial

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A former trustee of a Far North Māori land trust has admitted to stealing more than $1 million from the trust, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says.

Stephen Henare, 61, pleaded guilty to five counts of ‘Theft by person in special relationship’ and one count of ‘Attempting to pervert the course of justice’. The charges were brought by the SFO.

The SFO says that on the fourth day of his High Court trial, Mr Henare changed his plea. The trial was expected to last three weeks.

Mr Henare was a trustee of the P3G Trust, which managed a 512-hectare commercial forest on Māori land in the Tai Tokerau District. The forest block has more than 400 beneficial owners.

Mr Henare and his sister, Margaret Dixon, facilitated the transfer of the trust’s funds into various bank accounts, including personal accounts and family trusts.

As the instigator of the offending, Mr Henare intentionally failed to deal with $1,083,897 of P3G Trust’s funds in accordance with the P3G Trust Order. He also lied to the Māori Land Court in 2013 about the financial position of the trust.

In July 2018, Ms Dixon was sentenced to 12 months’ home detention and charged $5,000 reparation after she pleaded guilty in July 2018 to three charges of ‘Theft by person in a special relationship’ bought by the SFO.

Mr Henare has been remanded on bail to reappear for sentencing at the Auckland High Court on 26 July.