Alex Swney, the disgraced former chief executive of Auckland's Heart of the City business organisation, is to be freed from prison after his first appearance before the Parole Board.
Swney, 59, was jailed for five years and seven months in June 2015 after being convicted of tax evasion and fraud involving more than $4 million over a decade.
In an interview with Newshub, Swney said as an old and white prisoner, he was assumed to be a child sex offender and had been victim to heavy intimidation.
Swney told Newshub he was shocked to see how many prisoners could not read and write and began working in a literacy programme - an initiative he wants to continue after his release.
Time in prison had "unquestionably" made him a different person, he told Newshub.
Swney became eligible for parole on May 5, almost four years before his statutory release date of January 25, 2021.
While he was granted parole, Swney remains in prison and it is understood he will not be released until next month.
When he is released he will likely remain bankrupt for another year.
The married father-of-two pleaded guilty to charges laid by the Inland Revenue and Serious Fraud Office for offending that Judge Grant Fraser said involved "a gross breach of trust".
Among the offences were 229 false invoices used to obtain $2,527,005 from Heart of the City between February 2004 and October 2014. He was also charged with not paying taxes of $1,757,147.
Financial statements filed to the Incorporated Societies register showed that Heart of the City recovered just $353,623 of the $2,527,005 Swney obtained from it.
Despite the crimes, Swney told Newshub he believed he did some great work for the city.
A Heart of the City spokeswoman said the organisation would not be commenting on Swney's release.
The parole board announced its decision this morning.
It imposed several conditions on Swney's release, including that he needs clearance from his probation officer before handling money or the financial accounts of any other person or entity.
Reasons for the board's decision included Swney's "excellent conduct in prison" and the fact he had "engaged with a psychologist for treatment".
Swney had 12 sessions with his psychologist which had given him an insight into his offending, the board said.
"There is no doubt from the psychologist's opinion that the risk of Mr Swney reoffending is low," said the board. "The test is whether he would pose an undue risk to the community having regard to the support and supervision available to him on release."
The board was told that if released Swney would have the strong support of his family and a job offer. It's understood he will work for his wife, Ange's shoe importing business.
While in prison he had helped others as a literacy mentor and run a yoga programme. Since 2015 he had been living in self-care residences.
However, the psychologist's report to the Parole Board said Swney's responses indicated a person with a somewhat inflated ego and sense of entitlement. He initially struggled to accept the results of tests but began to develop an understanding of what brought him to offend.
There were issues around his "personality structure" that could also lead to risks, the board's decision said.
"We note that upon release Mr Swney, is committed to continue working with his psychologist."
Swney told the hearing he had no desire to live the life he had before his downfall.
"He told us he was concerned to provide for his family notwithstanding his present bankruptcy," the decision noted. "He accepted he would be living a downgraded lifestyle."
The board noted Swney's offending was serious with dishonesty sustained over more than a decade. As the judge noted in his sentence, his was a gross abuse of trust and authority, the board said. The offending was for "personal expenditure and the acquisition of valuable interests in exclusive properties held in a network of trusts".
It said Swney did not seem able to acknowledge that his sense of entitlement played a big part in his offending through his feeling that he was not rewarded appropriately for his services to Heart of the City.
"When he was not offered more remuneration, he resorted to illicit means to create greater financial reward for himself. Mr Swney seemed to us to still be coming to terms with his fundamental dishonesty," the board said.
The Herald revealed earlier this year that Swney was working with fellow inmates through a literacy programme run by the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform.
Howard League chief executive Mike Williams attended the hearing but didn't have to provide a character reference for the former high-flyer.
Speaking after the hearing but before the decision was released, Williams said: "Alex told me after he'd been convicted but not sentenced, 'I am used to the idea of going to jail and I want to make use of my time there, what can I do?'
"Generally white-collar offenders teach other inmates how to read and write on a one-on-one basis. Alex received a certificate from Judith Collins last November for teaching two prisoners. I hope the parole board notice that."
After the decision was released, Williams said he was "delighted and somewhat surprised" about Swney's release.
"I have been to several of these hearings and I found this one quite 'confronting'. It was quite aggressive, it was like a retrial."
Swney's special conditions
The Parole Board imposed special conditions to "remain in place for an extended period of to ensure that Mr Swney does not place himself in a position that could increase his risk of reoffending". They are:
• To undertake any assessment directed by his probation officer and complete any counselling or programme recommended by the assessment to the satisfaction of a probation officer.
• To reside at a nominated address, or alternative approved by a probation officer, and not move from that address without the prior written approval of a probation officer.
• Not to give financial or business advice to any other person without the prior written approval of a probation officer.
• To obtain the approval of a probation officer before starting or changing his position in any employment, or self-employment.
• Not to be involved in any way in any business, enterprise, trust, or voluntary or community organisation, other than as an employee, without the prior written approval of a probation officer.
• Not to be involved in the handling of money, or the financial affairs or financial accounts of any other person or entity, without the prior written approval of a probation officer.
• Not to have any contact with any victim of his offending, directly or indirectly, without the prior written approval of a probation officer.