Matt Nippert is a business investigations journalist.

Engineer grilled in bribery trial

Stephen Borlase in the Auckland High Court at the start of the trial. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Stephen Borlase in the Auckland High Court at the start of the trial. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

Tens of thousands of dollars of council payments in early 2011 were described in court as the "very essence of corruption", as the prosecution grilled a roading engineer on trial for bribery.

Prosecutor Brian Dickey presented email correspondence and copies of invoices in a rigorous cross-examination of Stephen Borlase at the High Court at Auckland yesterday, claiming a January 2011 email was key evidence of a corrupt conspiracy.

Borlase, who has been giving evidence for nearly a week, denied any corrupt or inappropriate behaviour.

The email chain, including an invoice for consulting for $28,570 from Murray Noone to Borlase's firm Projenz, saw the engineer express surprise at the bill.

Noone replied: "Bugger you are right about the invoices, I had miscalculated by a month. Can generate appropriate POs over the next month to cover it."

Borlase, along with former Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport senior manager Noone, are on trial facing charges of corrupting a public official through $1.1m of bribery. Borlase faces additional charges of fraudulently inflating invoices to council.
The pair have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Dickey said Borlase had, the month following the email exchange, sent three invoices totalling $47,000 directly to Noone at Auckland Transport. Dickey said the invoices were paid which netted Borlase "a nice tidy profit".

"What Mr Noone's offering to do is to generate purchase orders to cover the cost of his invoices to you - which is the very essence of corruption, Mr Borlase," Dickey said of the email.

"I don't read it that way at all," Borlase said. "I think it quite clearly shows a healthy business relationship."

Dickey spent considerable time delving into large contract tenders he won at Auckland Transport, noting that on the day Projenz submitted its tender Noone had been staying at what he described as a "four or five star" room at the Hilton Hotel in Auckland with the tab picked up by Projenz.

Borlase said the hotel accommodation was related to Noone's sideline role as a contractor for Projenz and the tender wasn't tainted.

"It's a competitive environment where [Noone] didn't have any influence on the outcome," Borlase said.

Dickey drew attention to long-running monthly payments to Noone in relation to conflict of interest declarations in tender documents where Projenz had stated they had none.

"You've paid a public official, who's a client in a tender process in a publicly-funded entity, $920,000: And you don't think there's anything you needed to declare in terms of this relationship?"

Returning to his consistent line that Noone had no direct role in evaluating or decision-making in that tender, Borlase said: "No. If Noone was involved in the tender process I definitely would have."

Dickey suggested no declaration was made because Noone earlier failed to declare to Auckland Transport his financial ties to Projenz. "I disagree with what you're suggesting," Borlase said.

Dickey was incredulous: "You're paying a man, through a tender process, hundreds of thousands of dollars. You've put him up in a hotel. But you're saying you wouldn't discuss a tender process as that wouldn't be right?"

"Correct," said Borlase.

The trial, before Justice Sally Fitzgerald alone, continues.

- NZ Herald

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