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Fran O'Sullivan: Mayor's dealings with SkyCity need inquiry

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Plenty to occupy Auditor-General in Brown's benefits from casino

It must now be ascertained if Mayor Len Brown himself solicited SkyCity's $15,000 donation to his 2010 campaign. Photo / Dean Purcell
It must now be ascertained if Mayor Len Brown himself solicited SkyCity's $15,000 donation to his 2010 campaign. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auditor-General Lyn Provost is the right person to take inquiries into Len Brown's relationship with the SkyCity hotels and casino operator to the obvious next stage.

The mayor of Auckland has attempted to brazen his way through the embarrassing detritus exposed by the EY (Ernst & Young) report into some of the implications of his two-year affair with Bevan Chuang.

But that report, emasculated as it was after legal negotiations between Brown's lawyer and the Auckland Council's QC, has put new material on the table which must now be investigated by the Auditor-General herself.

It was fundamentally inappropriate for Brown to take the three freebies and accept five upgrades from the SkyCity and SkyCity Grand hotels in Auckland.

Particularly, as the Auckland Council had to take a position on the Government's controversial "pokies for convention centre swap" and the mayor - who had previously railed against problem gambling - let his principles melt away.

The issue the Auditor-General now needs to probe is whether Brown directly solicited any of these personal benefits for himself.

It's a moot point that these benefits only came his way by virtue of the fact he holds the powerful position of mayor of Auckland.

But the inquiry into the SkyCity relationship must go further and ascertain whether it was Brown himself who solicited the $15,000 donation the casino operator gave to his 2010 mayoral campaign.

Brown said at the time the SkyCity donation did not influence his position on the Government deal.

But it obviously made a mockery of his campaign for a sinking lid policy to get fewer pokies in Auckland.

The SkyCity freebies have also unfortunately exposed the mayor to allegations of corruption by serial litigants who want the Serious Fraud Office to step in.

Retired Wellington accountant Graham McCready and his sidekick Penny Bright have said a private prosecution would be filed "without further notice" if the Serious Fraud Office fails to investigate a criminal complaint against Brown and SkyCity chief Nigel Morrison over their corruption and bribery allegations.

Neither McCready nor Bright have provided any concrete evidence to back up their allegations beyond the bare facts disclosed in the EY Report.

But that is unlikely to stop them from having a crack in the court system. McCready has already notched up a couple of political scalps by getting his private prosecutions against Labour MP Trevor Mallard for fighting and against Act MP John Banks onto the court agenda. This pair smell blood and are driven.

Yesterday Bright was boasting to media how as the process server she "personally served the witness summonses which got Kim Dotcom, his lawyer and bodyguard, and the CEO of SkyCity to the Auckland District Court to give oral evidence on 15 October 2013 against Banks".

That may be drawing a long bow.

But in the Auditor-General's case there is a firm basis on which to make more inquiries of Brown, the mayor's office and SkyCity. The EY report is fact-based. But it also suffers from the obvious limitation of being a report commissioned by Auckland Council CEO Doug McKay into his boss.

Provost is not constrained by any such relationship and, importantly, has the power to inquire and make relevant comment.

The EY report - as published - shies away from disclosing whether Brown solicited any of the nine freebies he had in four city hotels or requested any of the 64 upgrades.

The impression by Brown's public comments is that his wife, Shan Inglis, made most of their hotel bookings.

But it stretches credibility to believe Inglis would have made the booking for her husband's rendezvous with Chuang in a SkyCity hotel bedroom.

It also stretches credibility to believe that the duty managers around town in the three hotels where Chuang said they conducted their trysts - SkyCity, the Hilton, and the Langham - did not know of Brown's dalliances.

EY saves the mayor some embarrassment by failing to distinguish between Brown's overnight stays and his daytime stays in hotels. A footnote to the report simply says "room nights refers to both night stays and day stays".

It is unclear whether these so-called "room nights" cover the pop-in arrangements that Brown was said to have when a room was sought for a few hours for him to get away from the pressures of the office.

Reliable sources say the report was significantly trimmed back.

EY would have done a full forensic analysis, and the Auditor-General should also be requesting to probe whether anything else untoward was disclosed outside the narrow terms of the accounting firm's inquiry.

Behind the scenes, there's plenty of scuttlebutt on how the EY inquiries disclosed the relationship between Brown's mayoral office and council chief executive Doug McKay's office was not as harmonious as both men have publicly said.

Hardly surprising, perhaps, given the mayor's sense of entitlement exposed by this affair.

- NZ Herald

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