Ex-minister's trial a spectacular fall from grace

By Andrew Koubaridis

Court reporter Andrew Koubaridis continues his week-long look at some of last year's most high-profile trials.

Taito Phillip Field is the first New Zealand politician to be convicted of bribery and corruption. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Taito Phillip Field is the first New Zealand politician to be convicted of bribery and corruption. Photo / Paul Estcourt

For nearly four months, lawyers and jury members trudged along to the High Court at Auckland to hear allegations of bribery and corruption against a former Government minister.

Taito Phillip Field was charged with 35 offences that were alleged to have occurred when he was a Labour MP and minister outside the Cabinet.

He was eventually found guilty of 11 bribery and corruption charges and 15 counts of wilfully perverting the course of justice and sentenced to six years' jail.

Apart from marking a spectacular fall from grace for Field, this trial was significant because it was the first time a New Zealand politician had been convicted of bribery and corruption.

He continues to deny any wrongdoing and is appealing against his conviction and sentence. An appeal date has yet to be set.

Field's downfall came when he accepted free labour from Thai tradespeople who were grateful for the assistance he gave them with immigration matters.

It is wrong for MPs to accept rewards for doing their jobs but Field allowed the Thais to work at some of his properties in South Auckland, Wellington and Samoa.

At one point, he allowed one overstayer to stay in his home even though authorities were looking for her.

Field denied he did anything wrong. He insisted he paid for the work but had kept poor records so didn't have the documentation to prove it.

He was also accused of trying to cover his tracks and avoid detection once authorities began investigating him.

Witnesses said Field told them to lie about what had happened when they spoke to the inquiry headed by Noel Ingram, QC, and they initially did so.

The inquiry was set up by Helen Clark, the Prime Minister at the time.

But their stories changed when they gave evidence under oath and this was where the "perverting the course of justice" charges stemmed from.

Because many of the witnesses did not use English as their first language, interpreters were used to translate not only their answers but the questions from the lawyers - and all this took time.

The evidence was also weighty stuff - financial records and the like took a long time to pore over - and combined to stretch the trial past the three-month mark.

Two of New Zealand's top lawyers were on opposite sides. Auckland Crown Solicitor Simon Moore, SC, was the lead counsel for the Crown and Paul Davison, QC, represented Field.

Even their closing addresses to the jury took more than a full day each to complete.

The Crown said Field's behaviour was unbecoming of a minister who should have known better. The verdict was overwhelmingly against him. He was bailed but is now serving a six-year jail term.

At sentencing, Justice Rodney Hansen said Field had cynically used the Thais, who revered him, and then shamelessly tried to block the Ingram inquiry.

The judge said that what Field had done was sophisticated enough to succeed and if it had, then serious criminal offending would never have come to light.

After Field was jailed, wife Maxine said she was disappointed and sad but she believed he had done everything with a "clean heart".

* Taito Phillip Field

Where: High Court at Auckland.

When: April to August.

Charges: 35 charges of bribery and corruption.

Verdict: Guilty of 11 counts of bribery and 15 counts of perverting justice.

Sentence: Six years. He continues to deny any wrongdoing.

- NZ Herald

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