In August 2019 NZME published two articles concerning Smart Environmental Limited ("Smart") and its founder and former Managing Director, Grahame Christian ("Mr Christian").
The articles made allegations that Smart, while led by Mr Christian, had engaged in inappropriate and dishonest practices during part of its performance of a contract with Thames Coromandel District Council ("the Council"). The articles were published on the www.nzherald.co.nz website and in the New Zealand Herald newspaper.
Immediately following the publishing of the articles, Mr Christian commenced defamation proceedings in the High Court at Auckland against (inter alia) NZME and the contract reporter, Michael Valintine ("Mr Valintine") and Murray Bain ("Murray Bain"), an ex-employee and director of a local competitor of Smart and source for the articles.
NZME, following a demand from Smart, temporarily disabled access to the articles to enable Smart and Mr Christian's complaints to be investigated.
The Council engaged the accountancy and audit firm PWC, consultancy firm Morrison Low, and a Private Investigator. NZME has now received documentation which indicates that the Morrison Low and PWC investigative reports concluded (in summary):
a. Smart Environmental Limited engaged in correspondence with the Council in relation to its commercial waste disposal fees from around April 2018;
b. Smart Environmental Limited's tolling fees were charged in reliance on that 2018 correspondence; and
c. While there were discrepancies in relation to the waste tonnages entering the Thames-Coromandel RTS sites, based on the information provided to the investigators, the discrepancies did not appear to be significant. The Council published its findings in response to the allegations in the articles on 11 May 2020.
NZME understands that Mr Christian was not interviewed by Morrison Low, PWC or the private investigator in relation to these matters.
NZME acknowledges that Mr Christian has enjoyed a justifiable and very good reputation in the community including as a result of his success in business. NZME also acknowledges and apologises for any damage to Mr Christian's and Smart's reputation and distress Mr Christian may have suffered through publication of the articles.
NZME will not be republishing the articles and unreservedly withdraws any allegations of wrongdoing against Smart and Mr Christian contained within them.