Man jailed for scamming North Shore council

By Brendan Manning

Hemant Maharaj was sentenced in the Auckland District Court today. Photo / Doug Sherring
Hemant Maharaj was sentenced in the Auckland District Court today. Photo / Doug Sherring

A former North Shore City Council employee has been sent to prison after signing off more than 150 invoices for road and berm maintenance work that was never completed.

Hemant Kumar Maharaj and Suresh Din were sentenced in the Auckland District Court today for corruptly obtaining public funds from North Shore City Council.

Maharaj was jailed for two years and 10 months and Din was sentenced 10 months' home detention and 350 hours of community service following a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) prosecution.

The charges were laid in September 2010 and the pair were found guilty at a trial in June.

Their offending occurred over a period of about 10 years while Maharaj was working for the North Shore City Council.

The duo formed an agreement to invoice the council for road and berm maintenance work.

However the work was never completed.

They used 151 invoices in their scheme, with Din submitting the invoices under the name of S Din Family Trust.

The offending totalled "in the hundreds of thousands'', a SFO spokeswoman said.

After the invoices were submitted by Din, Maharaj would sign off the work as being completed and forward the invoice for payment.

Maharaj was a qualified civil engineer and was employed by North Shore City Council in 1990, however he has since been dismissed.

He and Din had been friends for a considerable time, meeting when they were living in Fiji before immigrating to New Zealand.

Acting SFO chief executive Simon McArley said the office was committed to minimising the impact of corruption on the economy through investigation and prosecution of issues in both the public and private sectors.

"New Zealand has an enviable international reputation for low levels of corruption.

"This is invaluable to our economic interests and SFO prioritises cases such as this one so that we deter offending that may undermine that reputation.''

The offending took place between 1999 and 2009 and in most cases no road maintenance works were carried out, or where works were carried out, the value of the works was significantly less than the money paid.

Maharaj was a former team leader at the North Shore City Council, which is now part of Auckland Council.

The SFO alleged about $829,000 had been defrauded, but only proved fraud of $145,000.

Auckland Council litigation and regulatory manager James Hassall said he was pleased with the outcome of the prosecution.

"It sends a strong message to all council officials that fraud will not be tolerated.

"It also lets the community know that people who attempt to defraud the council will be dealt with severely.''

The people of Auckland had the right to be able to trust officials to properly manage public funds, Mr Hassall said.

The Auckland Council was "vigorously pursuing the defendants'' through a civil claim in the High Court to seek full recovery of its costs.

- APNZ

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