Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

False law degree stoush 'storm in teacup' - Boag

Herald investigation - High-flyer who worked on trade talks left job after inquiry.

Michael Vukcevic.
Michael Vukcevic.

Revelations a former chief executive at a top legal firm made false claims about having a law degree are being been blown out of proportion, former National Party president Michelle Boag says.

Michael Vukcevic, 43, left Auckland firm Baldwins - which specialises in intellectual property law - for "personal reasons'', a press release from November showed.

An investigation into Mr Vukcevic, an experienced business leader who has worked closely with government ministers and agencies negotiating free-trade agreements in the Middle East, revealed he did not have a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) as stated on the curriculum vitae submitted to the firm two years earlier.

Ms Boag spoke to Radio Live this morning about Mr Vukcevic, one of her associates on the Middle East Business Council.

"This is a bit of a storm in a tea cup,'' Ms Boag, an executive adviser to the Middle East Business Council, said.

"As I understand it, he should have had the word 'incomplete' next to LLB. Having said that, I don't know why it wasn't there.''

Heading a law firm without a law degree was not uncommon, she said.

"Most chief executives of law firms these days are administrators, not lawyers, and you'll find that very common.''

Mr Vukcevic had never claimed to have a law degree when dealing with the council, she said.

"This is a voluntary board, people are nominated and elected. Mr Vukcevic had a previous job when he came onto the council, he's been there about three years, he's been re-elected during this period. Like all council members, he's a volunteer, he receives no benefits from the work that he does,'' she told Radio Live.

According to a CV submitted to a recruitment company, Mr Vukcevic's LLB and a Bachelor of Arts was obtained at Victoria University of Wellington. He attended the university from 1989 to 1992.

An internal investigation by Baldwins - launched after concerns around Mr Vukcevic's qualifications were raised - revealed he had not completed the legal qualification.

Alison Munro, an administration manager at Victoria University, also confirmed in an email to the Herald that Mr Vukcevic has only a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Economic History, granted in December 1993.

"Mr Vukcevic has not completed a Bachelor of Laws at Victoria University of Wellington,'' said Ms Munro.

Mr Vukcevic left the Queen St law firm in October. The firm, which has 10 partners and 30 lawyers or patent attorneys, has won or been shortlisted for several industry awards in recent years.

Questions about Mr Vukcevic's qualifications and the nature of his departure from Baldwins were not answered by management.

Philip Thoreau, a senior partner at Baldwins, responded to repeated questions from the Herald with the same answer as the November press release.

"All I am able to say is that he left for personal reasons. I'm sorry, I can't help you there.''

Mr Vukcevic's profile on the Baldwins' website described him as an experienced business leader with a "dynamic career'' which included being the chief executive of Pharmaceutical Solutions Ltd, a clinical research organisation that managed pharmaceutical and medical device clinical trials across New Zealand and Australia. He also worked at accounting firm Ernst and Young and dairy giant Fonterra.

He is also the current chairman of the New Zealand Middle East Business Council, which works closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise to develop business opportunities in the region.

Mr Vukcevic, as the chairman, helped organise a business delegation spearheaded by Trade Minister Tim Groser to the Middle East as part of free-trade agreement negotiations potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the New Zealand export market if ratified.

He was also a keynote speaker alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully at the launch of the "GCC Strategy'' - a Government plan designed to "open doors'' to the Middle East - which was attended by diplomats, government officials and business leaders last June.

Mr Vukcevic was previously on the board of Transparency International New Zealand, an anti-corruption agency dedicated to promote transparency, accountability and integrity in government and civil society.

He did not respond to Herald phone calls, emails and letters asking for comment yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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