A Bay of Plenty resort director found guilty of raping foreign workers has successfully appealed his sentence but failed to have his conviction overturned.
In May 2019, a jury found Pihi Hei guilty of 14 charges of indecent assault, one charge of inducing an indecent assault, four charges of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, five counts of sexual violation by rape, and disabling by stupefying. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The charges related to offending against two women who had responded to job advertisements at the remote Maraehako Bay Retreat between Te Kaha and Waihau Bay in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
In the court of appeal on August 25, Hei's lawyer Russell Fairbrother appealed both conviction and the sentence.
Justice Rachel Dunningham dismissed the appeal against Hei's conviction but the appeal against his sentence was allowed in part. The judge quashed the minimum period of imprisonment of nine years.
Fairbrother had argued the starting point of 17 years was too high and there had been a miscarriage of justice.
Hei's original conviction of 16 years included a one year discount for prior good record and good character which Justice Dunningham described as "generous". She said the starting point was correct.
"Although Mr Hei's criminal record was limited and historical, he was not a first-time offender," Justice Dunningham said.
"In all the circumstances, we can see no error in the starting point and no reason
to intervene in the sentence actually imposed."
She went on to say the minimum period imposed, of nine years, would have meant Hei would serve more than half his sentence before he was eligible for release.
"We accept that, given the scope of Mr Hei's offending and his ongoing denial of it, there is an argument for protecting the community. However, in our view, given Mr Hei's age, his community support, and the publicity surrounding these events, the risk to the community is adequately addressed by the current sentence, and the parole board is well equipped to address this risk if Mr Hei applies for parole.
"In our view, the lengthy sentence imposed, of 16 years' imprisonment, is sufficient, on its own, to achieve the principles of denunciation, deterrence and holding Mr Hei accountable for the harm done. He is an elderly man, and a minimum period of imprisonment which offers no hope of release until he is in his 70s is not required to achieve these objectives."
Hei's lawyer Fairbrother argued Hei's trial was prejudiced by several things including a pre-trial ruling which allowed the evidence of each complainant to be used in the case involving the other, judicial directions which put Hei's character at issue, and the fact severing the two complainant's cases from each other was declined.
Fairbrother took issue with the sentencing judge's assertion the situation was "engineered" by Hei, and that the complainants were vulnerable. He also argued the judge impacted the jury's perception of the defence case resulting in a miscarriage of justice.
But in the finding Justice Dunningham ruled Hei did not face unfair prejudice and evidence - including Hei having asked about acquiring the "date-rape drug" Rohypnol in 2015 - did not lead to a miscarriage of justice.