A former Northlander has been found guilty of blackmailing his insurance company into paying out his fire claim after threatening to discredit the reputation of the corporate entity online.
It took the jury just over three hours hours to reach their verdict on Christopher John Robinson in the High Court at Whangarei yesterday.
He was earlier facing an additional charge of perverting the course of justice, but Justice Ailsa Duffy formally dismissed that charge yesterday after the Crown did not offer any evidence.
Robinson blackmailed IAG New Zealand's lawyer Chris Hlavac of the firm Young Hunter, IAG NZ chief executive Jacki Johnson, chief executive IAG Group in Australia Michael Wilkins, and general manager of State insurance, Mary-Jane Daly.
Robinson's five-bedroom, 500sq m Killara Luxury Lodge on Ness Rd, inland from Kerikeri, was destroyed by fire just before midnight on September 9, 2011.
State Insurance, a business arm of IAG NZ, declined his claim as it reached the conclusion the fire was deliberately lit.
Robinson then wrote to Mr Hlavac and suggested a settlement offer either immediately in confidence or openly in the full glare of the media.
"The cost to IAG of the latter option is hard to quantify but I imagine it could be hard to continue issuing policies at all if it is shown that IAG actively worked with the investigators to fabricate evidence to avoid paying a valid claim," he wrote.
In her summing up, Justice Duffy directed the jury to decide the case in a calm and compassionate manner and to come to their verdict solely on evidence before the court. The Crown's case was, by threatening to disclose information about alleged illegal conduct on the part of IAG NZ to the public, Robinson intended to benefit by forcing the company to pay out his claim.
Defence lawyer Catherine Cull said the jury could not be sure Robinson's settlement offer was a threat to disclose information about IAG NZ.
The Northern Advocate can now reveal a charge of arson against Robinson was dropped in the Whangarei District Court last year.
Judge John McDonald ruled the Crown's "remote ignition theory" - which sought to explain how Mr Robinson had started the fire via computer when he was 400km away - could not be used as evidence in the trial. As a result, police withdrew the arson charge.
The Crown case against Mr Robinson on that charge was that he had installed software on his home computer allowing him to operate it remotely. By sending a print command from his laptop in Hamilton he was allegedly able to trigger a device which started the fire.
However, the Crown could not prove that a print command had been sent or that automatic printing software had been installed. As a result, evidence relating to the remote ignition theory was ruled inadmissible.
Robinson is on bail and will reappear for sentencing in June.