Donna Awatere Huata guilty of fraud

Former Act MP Donna Awatere Huata has been found guilty of defrauding a state-funded reading programme.

The jury of nine women and three men spent 12 hours deliberating before delivering its verdict in the Auckland District Court today.

The jury found Awatere Huata and her husband Wi Huata jointly guilty of four charges of defrauding the Pipi Foundation and a fifth charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Awatere Huata also faced two additional fraud charges. She was found guilty on one of them but was found not-guilty on the second charge.

Awatere Huata was remanded in custody until sentencing next month and Mr Huata was released on bail.

During his summing up yesterday, Judge Roderick Joyce instructed the jury to apply good, sound common sense to the task at hand.

He told them that although Awatere Huata lied in the past about her stomach stapling operation and the extent of her involvement in the state-funded reading programme, it did not prove she had lied throughout the trial or was guilty of defrauding the children's reading charity as alleged.

During the case, Awatere Huata's defence lawyer Guyon Foley told the court there was a lack of evidence to show the accused stole any money meant for the reading programme.

He described the Crown's case as sloppy and flawed and said prosecutors "cherry picked" their evidence, meaning they were selective in what they have shown during the trial.

Mr Foley also labelled former foundation chairwoman and treasurer Katherine Skipworth as a liar while saying Huata has a good character, as shown through her career as an MP.

However, Crown prosecutor Robert Fardell had earlier told the jury that, as an MP, Huata was not even supposed to be involved and yet she was writing out Pipi Foundation cheques to cash.

Huata's electorate secretary was a key witness for the prosecution. Patricia Kyle said she was asked on several occasions to pay for the overdue school fees of the Huatas' two daughters using Pipi Foundation cheques.

She also outlined how a stressed looking Awatere Huata asked her to lie about the cheques being cashed to pay for not only school fees, but also drumming lessons for one of the Huata's daughters.

Mrs Kyle said she was shocked, told the accused she could not lie, and contacted the police, which led to the arrest of the Huatas.

Awatere Huata's seat was declared vacant by Parliament's Speaker Jonathan Hunt in November of last year, after a protracted legal wrangle over whether her actions led her to becoming an independent member of Parliament, therefore distorting the proportionality of party political representation.

She lost her $150,000 salary and a lifetime of perks.

- Newstalk ZB

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