Two siblings allegedly paid themselves and their families more than $1 million from a Northland-based Maori trust while acting as trustees, leaving just $13.41 in its account.
Stephen Henare, 60, and Margaret Dixon, 59, are facing 11 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship in relation to their roles as trustees for the Parengarenga 3G Trust. The charges were laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Parengarenga 3G is a 511.83 hectare forestry block of Maori land managed by the trust and located just south of Te Kao, 70km north west of Kaitaia.
Henare appeared in the Auckland District Court last Thursday on six charges and was remanded on bail to reappear on November 21 while Dixon failed to turn up. The total amount they allegedly took illegally is $1,083,897, SFO said.
In June 2012, they and five others were appointed as trustees of the trust.
A month later, about $1.1m was transferred to the trust bank accounts primarily for the management of land and forest for the benefit of the roughly 400 owners.
A further $54,480 was also obtained by the trust from the sale of carbon credits.
The SFO alleges that between August 2012 and January 2014, a series of unauthorised payments were made from the trust's bank accounts to the siblings, leaving debts due for the care of the forest unpaid. By January 2014, there was only $13.41 left of the funds.
It is alleged both transferred $934,270.30 into various bank accounts, including their personal accounts and those of their respective family trusts.
Also alleged is that Henare intentionally failed to deal with an additional amount of $149,627 in accordance with the trust's order, without the involvement of Ms Dixon.
In August 2014, Maori Land Court judge David Ambler removed four trustees including Henare and Dixon after allegations they paid themselves $600,000 over a year, months after the trust was set up.
The judge said there could be a case of "equitable if not actual fraud" against former trustees and issued an injunction freezing their bank accounts.
Judge Ambler said between September 2012 and January 2013, three of the four former trustees - Henare, Dixon and Stephanie Henry - received "substantial" payments.
Another trustee, Darryn Henare, also received payments but Judge Ambler said they were "far less significant than the payments to the others".
Court documents showed that between September 2012 and September 2014 the trust paid more than $200,000 to the Stephen Henry Whanau Trust of which Stephen Henare and his daughter, Stephanie Henry, were trustees.
More than $100,000 was paid to Patrick and Margaret Dixon and in excess of $183,000 to SJ Henry and SJ Henare - understood to be Henare or his daughter.
A further $100,000 went to The Bear Legacy Company Limited in which Henare had a 10 per cent shareholding.
SFO director Julie Read said that, as the kaitiaki, Henare and Dixon were required to perform their roles in a way that ensured the forest thrived for the benefit of all.
She said their alleged fraudulent activity has jeopardised an asset that was meant to benefit generations to come.