John Marsden, chairman of South Auckland's Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau disability trust which is at the centre of claims of misspending has stepped down as the Ministry of Health launches an independent audit of its finances.
The trust which provides kaupapa Maori services to about 250 disabled people throughout the country and which receives $30 million in annual taxpayer funding was last week revealed to be conducting an internal investigation after claims from New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters of "irregular payments".
Chief executive Malcom Robson this morning confirmed that following a meeting with Ministry of Health officials late last week "it was agreed that the ministry would engage an independent forensic auditor and provide other support to the trust".
He said the ministry would provide him with two "advisors" including former Consumer NZ chief executive David Russel.
Also, a " transition process" for the trust had been initiated as part of which Mr Marsden would step down from his position and from the board.
An interim chair was to be appointed "in the coming weeks".
Among Mr Peters' claims were $360,662.90 paid to a bakery over two years for property maintenance, $250,000 to two firms unqualified to give financial advice and payments to a security systems company that does not exist.
Mr Robson confirmed last week that the the trust's employment investigation was looking into misuse of funding and confidential information. It is believed the suspected breaches are related.
He said the issues were historical, some dating back to 2012. If the investigation found possible criminal actions, police would be brought in.
The Health Ministry undertook a financial review of the trust in March and a governance review this month, after concerns were raised last year.
"The reviews didn't raise any specific concerns about their financial practices, but the auditors identified there was a lack of expertise at board level," said Jill Lane, the ministry's national health board director.