A four-year investigation by Internal Affairs has cleared a network of Open Brethren-run charities that operates one of country's largest kiwifruit businesses.
In 2015 a five-page anonymous complaint was sent to a number of government agencies concerning Trinity Lands, alleging excessive payment to executives, related-party conflicts and misusing the benefits of tax-free charitable status to gain an edge over commercial rivals.
The Charities Services, a branch of the Department of Internal Affairs, opened an investigation and conducted a financial review, before closing the case last November. A report prepared by investigators, and obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act, said: "No evidence has been found to support the complaint."
Trinity chief executive Peter McBride, said he had a "fair idea" who made the anonymous complaint. "It was definitely kiwifruit industry politics - I guess you could describe it as spurious vindictiveness," he said.
McBride, who stepped down as chairman of Zespri earlier this year, said he was pleased with the outcome of the investigation.
"We're externally audited, we take these things very seriously. We try to be really careful, because you can't take risks about your charitable status," he said.
A key plank of the complaint - that a rapidly expanding asset base showed profits were being reinvested to grow the business rather than being distributed to worthy causes - was dismissed after a financial review found the surge in value was largely due to asset revaluations.
According to the most recent financial accounts filed to the Charities Register, Trinity had $407m in assets and $117m in liabilities at May 31, 2019.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Another complaint - of excessive salaries - was dismissed after finding the average salary paid to the four-strong executive team in recent years was $162,000. "Entities are able to pay their staff salaries that they see fit to the extent they are materially consistent with a market rate. For a company of this size these amounts do not appear excessive."
Trinity was set up in 2012 following the merger of three charitable trusts set up by Open Brethren members to "farm for God". The three trusts - Lichfield Land, Hillview and Longview - have aims to advance the Christian religion and distribute dividend payments from Trinity to causes including Bible college and Christian school camps.