Banks kept 'sensitive' donations secret, court told

By Jimmy Ellingham

John Banks listens to evidence from the witness stand at the High Court in Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
John Banks listens to evidence from the witness stand at the High Court in Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

John Banks made every effort to keep "politically sensitive" donations to his failed 2010 Auckland mayoralty bid secret, the Crown says, but Banks' lawyer argues the politician had nothing to gain from that and is a victim of Kim Dotcom-orchestrated lies.

Both sides made their closing statements today in Banks' trial on a charge of knowingly filing a false electoral return for the mayoral campaign.

In the High Court at Auckland, Justice Edwin Wylie, who heard the case with no jury, reserved his decision until next Thursday.

The allegations relate to two $25,000 donations from Megastuff on behalf of Mr Dotcom and a $15,000 donation from SkyCity which Banks is accused of knowing about but recording as anonymous.

Crown prosecutor Paul Dacre, QC, said Banks took an active role in seeking to obscure the source of or his knowledge of donations that were "arguably the most politically sensitive".

Banks, now the Act Party's sole MP, told police he signed the electoral return, which was prepared by campaign treasurer Lane Hutchison, after asking Mr Hutchison if everything in there was correct.

Mr Dacre said Banks "sought to insulate himself" from knowledge of the donations by seeking Mr Hutchison's assurances and not checking the donations section of the return himself.

To get around the fact he knew where the SkyCity cheque came from, Banks passed it to another campaign staffer to give to Mr Hutchison, Mr Dacre said.

In June 2010, Banks visited Mr Dotcom's Coatesville mansion. There, Mr Dotcom said he offered to donate $50,000 to Banks' campaign but Banks asked for the money to be split so it could be recorded anonymously.

Banks later confirmed he received the money, Mr and Mrs Dotcom told the court

Here Banks engineered a situation where Mr Hutchison had no information about the source of the donation, Mr Dacre said.

And then, in "compelling evidence" he knew of the payments, Banks told Mr Dotcom's lawyer Greg Towers in 2012 he couldn't help the internet mogul after his high-profile arrest on suspicion of copyright infringement incase the mayoralty donations became public knowledge.

Mr Dacre dismissed as "conspiracy theories" suggestions Mr Dotcom, his estranged wife Mona Dotcom and other former Dotcom employees.

But defence lawyer David Jones, QC, said Mr Dotcom, who had criminal convictions for hacking and insider trading, had every reason to orchestrate lies as he looked to bring down a National-led government he hated and of which Banks was an important part.

"That in my submission is a compelling motivation for this man to fabricate evidence and manipulate those who he can to go along with what he had devised."

Mr Jones pointed out inconsistencies in prosecution evidence ? Mrs Dotcom said she was present when donations were discussed, Mr Dotcom said she was not.

Now the pair were separated, Mr Dotcom couldn't rely on her to support him so took her out of the picture, Mr Jones said.

But Mrs Dotcom went along with the earlier agreed version of events and that "proves the lie".

And former Dotcom accountant Grant McKavanagh originally said he travelled down to Queenstown and posted the cheques there, when they were actually deposited into Banks' account at a North Shore Westpac.

When that was pointed out Mr McKavanagh couldn't explain his "fairytale" evidence, Mr Jones said.

SkyCity boss Nigel Morrison has said he had a short meeting with Banks in May 2010 where he handed him a $15,000 cheque in an envelope.

Mr Jones said it was accepted that Banks knew the envelope likely contained a donation, but there was no evidence he was aware of the amount. There was "nothing sinister" in Banks handing the cheque to another worker to give to Mr Hutchison.

The Dotcom donations, meanwhile, were made in such a way they were correctly recorded as anonymous.

The Crown had failed to put forward a motivation for Banks to falsely declare donations and Mr Dotcom wasn't even on the public radar in 2010.

Mr Jones said Banks' campaign was financially transparent.

His team had chosen not to use a secret trust to channel payments, as was allowed, and on one occasion when Banks was handed a cheque, he banked it and informed Mr Hutchison of the situation.

Banks called a number of character witnesses and they were unanimous in backing his honesty and integrity, Mr Jones said.

"The defence, in a nut shell, is Mr Banks has acted properly and appropriately throughout."

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- APNZ

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