Ngatata Love defends Redwood appointment

By Sophie Boot

Ngatata Love is facing fraud charges in the High Court. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Ngatata Love is facing fraud charges in the High Court. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Former Treaty negotiator Ngatata Love defended hiring Redwood Group for a potential building project in Wellington, saying the Auckland property developer understood some of the complexities of working with iwi land.

Love began his testimony in the High Court in Wellington today in a case where he's accused of signing an agreement in late 2006 with Auckland property developers Redwood Group and Equinox Group to ensure they could lease land owned by the Wellington Tenths Trust, and that he received service fees through Pipitea Street Development Limited (PSDL), a company owned by his partner Lorraine Skiffington, without the trust's knowledge.

The Tenths Trust had become aware of Redwood because of work the developer had done with Ngati Whatua in Auckland, and the relationship he had with chief executive Tiwana Tibble, Love said.

Ngati Whatua's "philosophy wasn't dissimilar to ours, we wanted a developer that would take on all the risk," he said. "Here we had a developer that could understand our philosophy because they had worked with an iwi I knew well."

Love defended the lack of tender process for the development contract, which the Crown has asked previous witnesses about, saying that a tender process would normally be centred on a project, which wasn't the case with respect to the Pipitea Street development.

"All we had was the possibility of acquisition of land, it wasn't really part of what we could do," Love said. "This was to participate in an initiative which may or may not go ahead. There was no guarantee. Few developers would take on that sort of project."

The nature of Love's relationship with Skiffington was also called into question. Defence counsel Colin Carruthers QC said the Crown had characterised Skiffington as Love's partner, and asked Love why he had lived with Skiffington in the Moana Rd property.

He met Skiffington while working on treaty negotiations around 2001 when she was working for the then-Treaty Settlements Minister Margaret Wilson.

Love said he wasn't sure of the definition of partner and that he and Skiffington had been friends, connecting on a spiritual level, but there had been no sexual relationship.

He had moved into the Plimmerton house with his youngest daughter because it was closer to the city than Waikanae, where he had previously lived, Love said. He and Skiffington had different bedrooms, bathrooms and didn't share the same taste in food so didn't eat together, he said.

Love is charged with obtaining a secret commission and obtaining significant sums by deception. Skiffington was also charged but has been granted a permanent stay due to her ill health, while Ngatata Love's son Matene Love has already pleaded guilty to accepting a secret commission.

The judge-alone trial before Justice Graham Lang is continuing.

- BusinessDesk

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