Awatere Huata all dressed up for day one in court

By Carroll du Chateau

They walk out of Courtroom 7 looking like the stars of a B-grade American movie. Donna Awatere Huata wears a brave yellow suit with a skirt that barely reaches her knees, sheer stockings and matching stiletto slingbacks.

The trademark sunglasses are gone. Her new, curly, Tina Turner bob is tipped with blond, her face almost unlined for a woman of 54, her figure slim. The overall effect, in this setting: tragic.

Her second husband, Wi Huata, towers alongside in his full-length black leather coat, toting a black briefcase from which dangles a Qantas Club card. Like his wife he is carefully groomed, black hair slicked back, shoes polished like mirrors.

Throughout the morning the couple sit listening to lawyer Rob Fardell outline the Crown case against them. It is intricate and excruciating. A trail of cash withdrawals and corresponding cheques lead to Awatere Huata's stomach-stapling operation, her Visa card and her daughters' fees at Woodford House and Iona, two of the most elite, old-money schools in the country.

And while this jury of nine women and three men scratch their heads and frown at the labyrinth of evidence, Awatere Huata props her small multicoloured kete on the TV monitor and makes additions to her battered notebook, already almost full of notes highlighted in yellow.

Throughout she inspects the large sapphire and diamond ring on her third finger and repeatedly touches her younger, reputedly feisty, husband on the arm and back, whispers and smiles reassuringly.

He, hunched over a diary filled with columns of figures or talking to his lawyers, scarcely seems to notice.

Twenty-five years ago Donna Awatere was one of the country's most fierce Maori feminist activists.

A psychologist, her 4 minute reading programme was one of the more effective ways of combating illiteracy. She was a hard-working, tough Act MP. She now stands to lose much of what she has left.

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