Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

National Finance trial will battle the clock

Carol Braithwaite's jury trial begins today in Auckland.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Carol Braithwaite's jury trial begins today in Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

A race against the clock in the High Court begins today as the jury trial of National Finance's Carol Braithwaite kicks off.

Braithwaite - the former wife of jailed National Finance boss Trevor Ludlow - will be the first director from a failed New Zealand finance company to be tried by a jury.

She faces one charge of making untrue statements in a company prospectus. She has pleaded not guilty and will defend the charge on the basis that she believed at the time the prospectus was correct.

The charge, laid by the Financial Markets Authority, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison or fines of up to $300,000.

Although Braithwaite's judge-alone trial was scheduled to begin in Auckland last Monday and was expected to take three weeks, the case now has to be squeezed into a fortnight after she successfully applied to be tried by a jury.

A condensed case is necessary because a three-week or longer jury trial could not start until next year.

Opposing Braithwaite's application for a jury trial, Crown lawyer John Dixon expressed "grave doubts" in the ability of both sides to give their arguments in two weeks.

Dixon said although Braithwaite's case was not as complex as some of the other finance company prosecutions, the financial and accounting evidence involved could be "outside the purview of the ordinary juror".

Braithwaite had been due to appear in the dock with fellow director Anthony Banbrook, but the latter made an 11th-hour guilty plea. He will now be sentenced next month.

National Finance went into receivership in 2006, owing investors $21 million. Some investors have recovered 49c in the dollar.

Ludlow is serving a sentence of six years and four months after being convicted of charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Markets Authority.

He was found guilty last July of defrauding investors of an estimated $3.5 million.

He and Braithwaite once shared a $1.5 million Devonport property and in 2009 he blamed the stress of the business' failure for the pair's break-up.

Both are banned from being company directors until next April.

National Finance accountant John Gray pleaded guilty to theft and false accounting charges in the Auckland District Court in 2010 and was sentenced to nine months' home detention.

- NZ Herald

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