The Wellington Tenths Trust has been successful in getting some of the assets belonging to Lorraine Skiffington, the partner of convicted fraudster and former chairman Ngatata Love, frozen pending a further judgment.
Last October, former Treaty negotiator Love was jailed for two years and six months after being found guilty of obtaining significant sums by deception. He and Skiffington used a $1.5 million payment from a land developer, given as a premium for access to valuable land owned by the trust, to repay most of a mortgage on a Plimmerton house they co-owned. Former trustees of the Tenths Trust gave evidence at the trial that they had never been told of the payment.
In his trial, Love sheeted the blame home to Skiffington, who he claimed had acted without his knowledge, and also blamed Shaan Stevens, a consultant who worked alongside Skiffington and Love. Skiffington was also charged but was granted a permanent stay as she was declared medically unfit to stand trial.
Wellington High Court Justice Karen Clark today ruled in favour of the Tenths Trust, who had asked for an interim freezing order on assets placed in two trusts of which Skiffington is the sole director and shareholder; Strategic Directionz and Moanatahi.
The trust is pursuing Skiffington for unjust enrichment, both for $1.7m paid into the trust used to buy the Plimmerton house, and for payments made to Skiffington or to Stategic Directionz totalling $1.8m. Assets belonging to Skiffington and Strategic Directionz are now frozen pending the final determination of that issue.
In an affidavit opposing that summary judgment and freezing order applications, Skiffington argued that she was not paid consultancy fees for the work she did for the Tenths Trust between 2006 and 2010, but had given the trust extensive benefit from her work, so the money she was paid by the property developers reflected that, Justice Clark said.
The judge noted that Skiffington has not made a payment on the $92,700 mortgage on the Plimmerton house since March this year, despite it being tenanted. She also never responded to a letter from the Tenths Trust in November 2016 requesting reparations for unauthorised payments she had received.
"Balancing all that has been said on behalf of the defendants against the first defendant's failure to arrange payment of even part of the mortgage arrears due to Westpac, the defendant's failure to respond to Tenths' request for a written undertaking, and the apparent strength of the plaintiff's claim, Tenths has demonstrated that the overall interests of justice favour the grant of an interim freezing order," the judge said. "The overall interests of justice do not favour the defendants in circumstances where there is a tenable argument they have engaged in fraudulent activities that have caused serious loss to the plaintiff, its beneficiaries, and the wider Maori community in Wellington and Taranaki."
The trust was established to administer 81 hectares of Maori Reserve lands, largely in urban Wellington, on behalf of its beneficial owners, the descendants of hapu of Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui tupuna who were living within the rohe in 1839. It held assets of $55.6m as at March 31, 2014. There are currently 6,133 registered beneficial owners.