The former key adviser to the Māori King has been sentenced to home detention after admitting to defrauding the King's Office to pay for weight-loss surgery.
Rangi Whakaruru was this morning sentenced at the Auckland District Court by Judge Ema Aitken, following years of investigations by the Serious Fraud Office and Charities Services, and rancour within Tainui, who fund the Kiingitanga.
Whakaruru was given a sentence of 12 months home detention, a further six months of post-release conditions, 300 hours of community service and ordered to make $115,000 in reparations.
The 57-year-old was a close confidant and had been Māori King Tūheitia Paki's private secretary since 2009.
Last December he pleaded guilty to five charges of obtaining by deception and one of lying to Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigators, following probes sparked by a Herald investigation into apparent forged invoices used to induce Tainui to pay for Whakaruru's private gastric bypass surgery.
Māori King's office on today's sentencing
The Māori King's office said it "respected" today's sentencing: "This office has a deep respect for the law and does not condone any illegal activity," it said in a statement.
Since Whakaruru's resignation "this office has put in place significant changes at all levels: governance, management and operations".
"These changes have led to a positive sweeping change and we now remain focused on our task and responsibilities for the future. We believe we now have processes in place that will prevent any further systemic vulnerabilities."
Prosecutor Todd Simmonds said the financial costs of the offending - said in court to be $140,000 - including $30,000 in legal and accountancy bills incurred by Tainui - were eclipsed by wider consequences and Whakaruru's "gross abuse of trust".
"The harm in a case like this goes much beyond pure financial loss. It goes to significant harm to the reputation and mana of the iwi and the Kiingitanga. These matters are difficult, if not impossible to quantify: But they are real and tangible," he said.
"He was, to state the obvious, in a special and unique position of trust, power and influence. And he deliberately abused that … to unlawfully obtain money, much of it for his own personal benefit."
A sentencing hearing had initially been scheduled for April 24, but this was postponed as the courts dealt with Covid-19 restrictions, and was delayed again until today.
The SFO in court were urging judge Ema Aitken to impose a custodial sentence, while Guyon Foley - acting in defence of Whakaruru - argued for a sentence of home detention and said his client was in a position to now pay $90,000 in reparations.
Foley told the court Whakaruru had a job lined up with the Waipaireia Trust were he to avoid jail, and the publicity surrounding the case has been a heavy penalty.
"His fall from grace and the accompanying shame is not insignificant. He's wrecked things for himself, for now. Mr Whakaruru's intention is to serve his sentence and get on with his life," Foley told the court.
Whakaruru's offending saw him misuse the King's chequebook and arrange the manufacture of false invoices for personal gain.
It also included getting Waikato-Tainui's chief executive to sign-off and pay for a private gastric band surgery, and was later claimed a medical procedure had actually been performed on King Tūheitia.
Court documents released to the Herald show Whakaruru was admitted to MercyAscot hospital in Epsom for the surgery on May 11, 2016 and discharged five days later. The procedure cost $27,650.
Whakaruru's executive assistant had booked many of the appointments at MercyAscot to attend in the lead-up to the surgery - he told her he had ill health and doctors believed it was stomach cancer.
Also known as Rangi Wallace, Whakaruru had occupied the roles of general manager and/or chief executive officer of Ururangi Trust, which was established to provide financial support to the office of the King.
Just prior to his surgery, Whakaruru prepared a confidential internal memorandum seeking $200,000 for the Ururangi Trust to cover the forecasted medical treatments and costs of the King, an agreed summary of facts said.
The memorandum claimed the King's "Primary Advisors & Medical Team" included the CEO of Mercy Hospital Group, even though neither the CEO nor any of the hospitals in the Mercy Group were involved in medical treatment for the Māori King at that time.
The surgery was billed back to the Ururangi Trust before Whakaruru instructed the Mercy Group CEO to change the details of the first invoice so his name and the details of his procedure were removed.
Whakaruru then asked his executive assistant to draft a breakdown of costs of the Māori King's health and medical bill for April, May and June. The $27,650 was claimed to have included procedures such as vascular therapy and consultation, ultrasound, a CT scan, urinary tract monitoring, and peripheral angioplasty.
He also ordered the creation of three invoices in late 2016, totalling $80,263, purportedly for medical care for King Tūheitia and his family at MercyAscot hospital. Whakaruru later submitted these to then-Waikato-Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean for payment.
After receiving an invoice, court papers show, Whakaruru sent an email to his executive assistant stating: "Excellent. Print two copies and please keep this strictly to yourself and I as I cannot compromise anyone else other than the hospital and I."
When misusing the King's personal chequebook, he wrote a cash cheque for $14,812 and signed it - using his own signature - on about December 20, 2016.
The cheque was deposited into Whakaruru's personal account the same day it was written before $14,800 was then transferred from his account back into the Māori King's account.