Treaty payout tied up in collapse

By Yvonne Tahana

A Turangi hapu fears heavy financial losses after a company in which it invested its Treaty settlement went into receivership.

The Ngati Turangitukua Charitable Trust, which received a $5 million Treaty settlement a decade ago, bought a 12.5 per cent stake in Te Whenua Venture Holdings earlier this decade.

Te Whenua Venture Holdings bought a 649ha block known as the Mangamawhitiwhiti property near Turangi for $10.2 million in 2006. It planned a golf course and 2500-home residential development.

However, Te Whenua Venture Holdings, partly owned and directed by former MP Richard Prebble, fell into receivership in January.

Two weeks ago Ngati Turangitukua Charitable Trust cleaned out its board and appointed five new trustees.

However, new chairman Ned Wikaira said hapu members were not clear about how much the trust owed to possible creditors, because of the lack of information from previous trustees.

The hapu was now demanding higher levels of accountability from trustees.

"We kept being told that things were confidential. The trust actually belongs to the whole iwi. The iwi are the bosses, so for the workers to come back and say 'oh this is confidential' is totally unheard of."

That situation also had implications for the wider trust asset base, as the trust did not know the worth of its settlement assets.

Asked where that left the trust, Mr Wikaira said: "Probably up the creek without a paddle. The seriousness of the situation is that [legal representation] has to file a writ in the High Court to stop a demand that's happening."

He would not give further details.

Tama Potaka, a Bell Gully solicitor who has been employed to help the hapu navigate towards a solution, was asked for comment on the financial situation.

He said other options besides court might still be possible, but a lack of documentation meant the trust was in the "challenging" process of piecing together the full extent of any loss.

The trustees were still trying to locate documentation clarifying what that number might be, he said.

"I think the commitment that the trust has made over the last three or four years is something that needs to be fully quantified."

Ngati Turangitukua's Waitangi Tribunal claims - which relate to the way the Crown alienated land and destroyed wahi tapu (sacred sites) while developing Turangi and the Tongariro power scheme in the 1960s - were recognised by law in 1999.

Mr Prebble was not available for comment.

- NZ Herald

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