When the Maori King’s son escaped conviction for drink-driving and stealing, public outrage followed. Phil Taylor examines whether the heir to the throne can make good on his second chance.

Can Korotangi Paki be rehabilitated and one day become a good king?

Paki is the sullen-looking young man photographed in the dogbox in courtrooms and on marae. He is the raging youth in a video clip claiming to be the man, the "Tane o te motu". He is the te reo speaker, bright enough to pass NCEA Level 3, the talented artist and, by his own admission, a thief, a drinker and a dangerous driver. And, at 19, he is due, next month, to become a father.

Several sources described him as arrogant. What sets him apart from all others his age who get in trouble is that his father is the seventh Maori King, and he may become the eighth.

A judge's decision to discharge him without conviction, because a criminal record would likely disqualify him from succeeding his father, was met with outrage. A Facebook page Send Korotangi Paki back to court - collected thousands of supporters. Crown Law has done just that; a date for its appeal to the High Court has yet to be set.


Paki's actions have also called into question the relevance of the King Movement in modern New Zealand.

It emerged in the 1850s, among some tribes of the central North Island, as a means of providing unity and status to try to halt alienation of land at a time of rapid population growth from the European colonists. Some hold the view that it had served its purpose when Tainui accepted a Treaty of Waitangi settlement in 1995.

Research for this article uncovered why it may be so important among supporters of Kingitanga that Paki escape criminal convictions. His father, a diabetic who has had several operations in the past year, does not enjoy good health and elder son Whatumoana, who has recently deputised for the King at engagements, is unlikely to be an automatic choice.

There is a third child, a daughter, Ngawai, an impressive te reo speaker who led her school's kapa haka group to the national title last month and who is bound for university next year. But in short, Korotangi Paki - who will be the first of the three to have a child and guarantee the continuation of the bloodline - might be called upon sooner rather than later.

One night out stealing

Tuesday, March 18, was the night Paki put himself in the national spotlight. He was drinking at the Gisborne address where he boards. With him were his friends Te Ahorangi Totorewa, Hamuera Pugh and Raa Smith. Paki was 18, Totorewa and Pugh 19, and Smith 17. They discussed stealing surfboards, then drove in Totorewa's car to the Top Ten Holiday Park at Waikanae Beach, where they cut two surfboards belonging to Whakatane High School from a trailer. When challenged by a member of the public, Smith handed one surfboard back. Paki and Pugh put the other in the car.

The four then drove to Wainui Beach, where they opened the hatch of a car parked in a driveway and took a Swazi oilskin jacket, an Akubra hat and a fibreglass cattle prod. Further along Wairere Rd they went on to Julie Dowsing's property and took a surfboard, which Paki and Smith carried to the car. The total value of property stolen was $1600.

They weren't hard to catch. A neighbour saw them come out of Dowsing's address and noted the car registration. The police had them by the time they returned to Paki's lodgings a few kilometres away in Kaiti, in Gisborne's east.

Paki did this while on bail - with name suppression - on a drink-driving charge from October.

Project Paki

More than anyone, Brad Totorewa, father of the offender Te Ahorangi Totorewa, is the reason the youths avoided convictions. Totorewa has an MBA, manages six campuses in the Tainui area for Te Wananga o Aotearoa, is well connected in Tainui circles and is a supporter of the King Movement.

He and Potaka Maipi are part of a mentoring group for Paki, put together after the burglary and theft charges were laid. In the offices of Raukura Hauora O Tainui in the bustling Tainui-owned Te Awa Mall on the southern side of Hamilton, with its big-box retailers and cafes, they talk about the burden that comes with Paki's blood, "the responsibility of Maoridom".

"That's his bloodline there," said Totorewa, motioning to seven portraits - six kings and one queen - that line the boardroom wall. "He didn't select the family that he was born into and unfortunately he was born from a whole line of chiefs. These people here ... . the responsibility of everybody on this wall was to ensure the sustainability of Maoridom."

Though the monarchs are all based on lineage, they don't have to be. It used to be that the person had to have the necessary mana to unify. The current King wasn't groomed for the role because he was a late choice by Queen Te Atairangikaahu, and the former truck driver has been mocked for his inability to speak te reo. At a water rights hui, King Tuheitia was to make a speech to be televised on the evening news but didn't have his teeth in, a Tainui source said.

"He'd forgotten them. That's the sort of guy he is. When I first met him, he was on the veranda of the Kingitanga house in shorts and gumboots and no teeth. I could hardly understand him."

The ailing King Tuheitia. Photo / Sarah Ivey

His son Korotangi Paki is being schooled in the language and protocol. When he "hit rock bottom", Totorewa and others rallied round. Thirty-one thousand people had harassed him, threatened to throw him in jail, to kill him, Totorewa said. The figure comes from the number of Facebook likes on pages denouncing him. Their return to Gisborne, where they are studying Maori arts, was delayed because of fears for their safety.

The plan Totorewa devised that so impressed the judges aimed at making amends and restoring integrity. His initial motivation, he said, was that of a father. "When they told me that the people that my son was living with, and those Korotangi was living with, would have to get surveyed for [a possible sentence of home detention with] electronic monitoring, I made a decision that my son wouldn't get that. That was my goal. I accepted that he did wrong. He pleaded guilty, they all did.

"I was disappointed but I didn't express that until the outcome. My role was support. You do anything for your kids."

The plan involved eight activities: face-to-face restorative justice conferences to apologise to the victims, voluntary work in which they applied Taa Moko designs to members of a cultural group, designing and painting panels for a Maori immersion school, refereeing primary school rippa rugby, attending classes in Maori weaponry and incantations, undertaking mentoring, setting up a support group in Gisborne for people of Tainui descent and creating a koha of a personal artwork to be donated to the victims.

The aim, Totorewa said, is to ensure they don't break the law again. "This is one hell of a lesson, it's a lifelong lesson."

The victims

Dowsing and Goldsbury met Totorewa, Pugh and Smith, accompanied by Totorewa's father. At a later date, Dowsing met Paki, accompanied by the Totorewas.

Dowsing won't comment on what was said but she was surprised Paki didn't come along with the other three.

"I don't know why he didn't come at the same time. Let's face it, he probably doesn't have a busy schedule."

It wasn't unusual for teenagers to do stupid things, she told the Herald. "I thought it got out of hand as far as the courts and everything went really. Especially probably for the three who hadn't been in trouble before. They were remorseful. They did far more than they needed to do and they were lucky that they had good families to support them."

A champion fisher, Dowsing provided three swordfish bills for the boys to carve for her. Goldsbury asked them to write a letter in a year's time to report what good they had done. Whakatane High received a 1.5m artwork, Whakapounamu, designed and made by the four and presented by Paki.

Discharge without conviction

The Sentencing Act allows a judge to discharge without conviction only when satisfied that the consequences of a conviction will be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.

There has been no public outrage about the other three, who were also discharged without conviction. They appeared before Judge Geoffrey Rea in Gisborne District Court; Paki appeared in Auckland before Judge Philippa Cunningham.

Both judges spoke of the voluntary work - the Mana Tangata programme. Judge Rea said it was the first time in 19 years on the bench that he had exercised the discretion.

"What I couldn't believe when this file came across my desk was the amount of work your families put in to try to get you sorted out. And you yourselves have done all you can to put things right."

Aside from Paki being the King's son, the key distinction between him and the others is that at the time they went out stealing, he was on bail on a charge of drink-driving. Crown Law told the Herald this week that the more serious drink-drive charge was the reason Paki's case alone is under appeal.

Korotangi Paki's car wrapped around a power pole in Huntly in June 2011.

Paki, who was 18, had a breath-alcohol reading of 761 - almost twice the 400 legal limit for adults. For those younger than 20 the limit at the time Paki was caught was 150 micrograms per litre of breath (the law has since changed to zero).

The judge said it was a "serious level for a young person" but she was driven to the conclusion that convicting him would exclude Paki from the possibility of succeeding his father as Maori King and was therefore out of proportion to the offending. She discharged Paki without conviction on condition he be assessed for an alcohol problem and if one was detected, undergo treatment. The King's office this week said that is currently being done.

Former Labour Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels described Paki's discharge as "cultural hypnosis", while his fellow Ngapuhi kaumatua David Rankin said Paki had shamed Maoridom and it was time to end the King Movement.

Proportionality is the test for judges. "Would the consequences of a conviction outweigh the seriousness of the charge?" said criminal law specialist, Professor Warren Brookbanks.

The discretion to discharge was a vexed area. Brookbanks is sure judges would be sensitive to avoid the impression of bias based on race or social standing.

"But in the exercise of a discretion, inevitably the judge's own subjective views of a situation are going to come into play."

A law student, for example, might avoid conviction when a truck driver would not, because the consequences would be greater. Brookbanks said the appeal serves the public interest that the courts are not "soft because of people's privileged situations".

"You can't ignore the seriousness of the charge and it may be that the balance [of factors] says, no, the seriousness of this charge outweighs the desirability of leaving a young man without a conviction on his record. That may be the price he has to pay for his behaviour. It is a difficult call."

Troubled teen or troublemaker?

All four youths are smart and artistic. They have passed NCEA level 3 and University Entrance and are taking a course at Maori arts school Toihoukura, at Gisborne's Eastern Institute of Technology, where Associate Professor Steve Gibbs' only comment for this article is that they are "all really good art students", who have been no trouble at school.

Paki has been in representative Maori cultural groups and was a member of the haka group that performed before the Chiefs' Super Rugby matches.

He and Smith have previously been in court on drink-drive charges, and Paki had also been in court when aged 16 after smashing into a power pole in a boy-racer crash that witnesses said could have cost him and his passenger their lives. He appeared in the Youth Court, which is closed to public scrutiny and where the outcome does not go on the offender's criminal record.

Though drinking was a factor the last two times Paki was arrested, he is known in only one of Gisborne's bars, The Shipwreck, where a manager described him as an occasional patron who has "an arrogant air" but had not caused trouble. "He has no mana here," he said.

A neighbour of the house where Paki boards in Gisborne has no complaints. "They have had a few parties where they get the guitar out and have a sing-along but they are pretty nice neighbours."

Soon after Paki was discharged, objectionable material from his Facebook page emerged (the comment "chingy eyed c***s" accompanied a photo of Asian people, the Mongrel Mob salute "sieg heil" and a foul-mouthed video rant made two years earlier.

The King's office declined the Herald's request to speak to Paki.

A well-placed source within Tainui told the Herald Paki was "a ratbag". "He's got something that just irks people. I think his criminal behaviour is not really him, but he just does silly things. If he didn't have any responsibility, if he wasn't the King's son, it probably wouldn't be a big deal."

He'd earned credit for apologising before the King's 12 advisers, but whereas one of the youths was tearful, Paki had absentmindedly torn the agenda document into strips. "He got up to leave and there was this trail of little bits of paper."

A request for comment from King Tuheitia went unanswered but media spokesman Kirk MacGibbon said the King would comment in his speech at the anniversary on August 21 about "the trials and tribulations he and his family have faced".

MacGibbon said the original aim of Kingitanga was to enable Maori to speak with one voice, while its biggest role today was to provide a platform for Maori to come together to discuss issues, as they did at the water hui. It was "bullshit" to refer to King Tuheitia as "the Tainui King", he said and some were using Paki as a rod to beat the King Movement.

"Korotangi has already been punished heavily within Maoridom. So regardless of the court's sanction, he has paid a huge penalty internally."

Would it be the last time the possible future king got in trouble? "It f***ing better be!"