Donna Awatere Huata jailed

Former Act MP Donna Awatere Huata's fall from grace was completed today when she was jailed for two years and nine months for stealing from a Maori trust set up to help under-privileged children.

Her husband Wi Huata was jailed for two years. Wi Huata's sentence was deferred for two months to allow him to apply for home detention.

During sentencing Wi Huata's sibling Hira Huata stood up in the public gallery and accused the court of administering "white man's justice".
He was then joined in a haka by Wi Huata's sister Huia.

Judge Roderick Joyce stopped the proceedings while police ejected Hira Huata from the courtroom before continuing sentencing.

They were found guilty of fraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice by an Auckland District Court jury last month after the Serious Fraud Office said they stole more than $80,000 from the Government-funded Pipi Foundation.

The foundation was set up by Awatere Huata in 1999 to help literacy and social skills of under-privileged Maori children and over three years received more than $840,000 in Government funding.

Awatere Huata has been held at Arohata Women's Prison in Wellington since the trial and Huata has been on bail.

The couple was found guilty of four joint charges of fraud and one joint charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Awatere Huata was found guilty of one individual charge of fraud and not guilty of another fraud charge.

The Serious Fraud Office said the duo stole $82,000 from the Government funded Pipi Foundation and then tried to cover up their crime by altering the books and asking people to lie for them.

Some of the stolen money was used to pay for Awatere Huata's stomach stapling operation and some was used to pay state-integrated school fees for the couple's children.

Awatere Huata, 56, entered Parliament in 1996 after years of activism for Maori causes, including the promotion of literacy and education programmes for Maori.

The Act Party were attracted by her message that the future for Maori lay in self empowerment rather than state dependence.

However, the relationship soured when Awatere Huata refused to explain herself to the party when allegations first surfaced against her in the media.

ACT expelled her but she stayed on as an independent during a protracted legal fight which was finally resolved last year when the Supreme Court decided the party could use party hopping legislation to remove her.

- NZPA

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