A conman who unlawfully sold a church from under the feet of its Auckland parishioners has used the proceeds to fund a luxurious lifestyle.
Charles Hohepa now lives in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and tells people he is a Maori chief who must be addressed as "His Excellence".
He was blasted in a High Court judgment as "a liar, a fantasist, or both" after orchestrating the sale of the building that housed the Peoples Worship in Freedom Mission.
Hohepa was the sole surviving trustee of a charitable trust which owned the building in New North Rd, Eden Terrace.
From his base in Spain, Hohepa contracted Hamilton lawyer Charles Fletcher to sell the property on his behalf.
Fletcher, the principal of Fletcher Law, also made several payments of several thousand dollars on his American Express card to pay Hohepa's bill in a plush five-star serviced apartment in Madrid, Spain.
The church building was eventually sold for $350,000 in 2002 without notice to members, some of whom lived on the premises and had been attending services at the building for 15 years.
Justice Duffy wrote: "Once the funds were remitted to Mr Hohepa in Spain, they disappeared without trace."
The High Court judge ruled the sale was in breach of the trust guidelines and that both men were guilty of dishonesty.
Fletcher has denied having any knowledge of Hohepa's dishonest intentions and has filed an appeal. He said on Friday: "It's a fundamentally flawed judgment and it's the subject of an appeal."
Hohepa failed to show up to defend himself at any of the hearings. But he wrote to the judge describing himself as a Maori who works on behalf of "Maori people who are and have been seriously disadvantaged by successive governments in our country".
Hohepa also claimed to be "brokering a number of strategic political accords" between Europe, the US and the Pacific Rim.
Hohepa has moved to Dubai where he claims to work for a non-governmental organisation called the "World For World Organisation" as "executive chairman of resource mobilisation team".
The trust had owned the mission building since 1962 and Hohepa became the only trustee after the death of another trustee in 2001.