The lawyer acting for a former Auckland council manager has disputed claims from the Serious Fraud Office that his client created a "culture of corruption",by pointing to undeclared gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars given by others to council staff - including a former council chief executive.
The explosive claims emerged in closing arguments for the defence in the trial of Murray Noone and Stephen Borlase, accused of bribery and corruption over $1.1 million in consultancy payments between 2005 and 2012.
The Serious Fraud Office alleges these payments, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel and entertainment spending on associated council staff, was connected to Noone's awarding of tens of millions of dollars of roading contracts to Borlase's firm Projenz by Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport.
The long-running trial which opened in late September closed today with Simon Lance, acting for Noone, outlining to the High Court at Auckland how the evidence showed his client's relationship Projenz was neither atypical nor corrupt.
Lance said the prosecution case had made much of potential conflicts of interest and Noone's alleged lack of disclosure.
"These allegations did eventually lead to Noone's employment at Auckland Transport being investigation, then brought to an end. But the lack of disclosure cannot necessarily lead to the conclusion there was a corrupt agenda," Lance said.
Lance said evidence heard over the past seven weeks supported the contention that this was at worst an employment issue, and many of Noone's colleagues and superiors had treated similar issues the same way.
Lance, quoting former RDC chief executive Roger Kerr-Newell's testimony given earlier in the trial, said conflicts of interests were not "the end of the world". Lance said Kerr-Newell admitted to receiving an expensive bottle of whiskey and a cigar from Projenz that were not listed on the RDC gift register.
"Some gifts, for example whiskey, were simply provided as a goodwill gesture - 'a courtesy of life'. This was seen as standard industry practice," Lance said in written submissions to the court.
Lance also said the council's claim that Noone and Borlase were responsible for a "culture of corruption" in Auckland roading management was not supported by revelations at trial that Noone's deputy Barrie George received hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel gifts and perks from other contractors.
Lance said George received $200,000 in travel gifts from Hiway Stabilisers, all before Noone was employed in 2005 at RDC.
George was originally charged alongside Noone and Borlase, but pleaded guilty on the eve of trial to corruptly receiving $103,580 in gifts from Projenz. He gave evidence for the Crown while wearing a home detention bracelet.
Lance argued the case against his client, and Borlase, was circumstantial and was reliant on suspicion.
"Suspicion plus suspicion only ever equals suspicion. If maybe this thorough investigation, which goes for a number of years, sees suspicions raised: But that is not proof beyond reasonable doubt," he said.
The trial, before Justice Sally Fitzgerald alone, finished hearing eight weeks of evidence this morning. Justice Fitzgerald directed a hearing be scheduled for December 9 where she would deliver her verdict.