An Australia-based fraudster has brought shame as well as a loss of mana and trust to his iwi after the organisation lost more than $3 million in a series of sophisticated investments.
The entrepreneurial South Taranaki iwi Ngā Rauru Kītahi, which created Kaitahi As One smoothie products made of indigenous superfoods and stocked in supermarkets around the country, lost $3.1m after putting its faith in Te Whitinga Mark Huirua.
Huirua lost $2.6 million in trading, including on cryptocurrency investments, and used $500,000 for personal expenditure.
He appeared before Justice Warrick Gendall in the High Court at Whanganui for sentencing on Friday after pleading guilty to six charges of using a forged document to gain a pecuniary advantage and one of carrying on a business fraudulently in February.
Huirua's whānau belong to the iwi and were held in high standing but the court heard he has since been shunned by the organisation after his offending was discovered.
Members of the iwi were in the court's public gallery for the sentencing but none of them were there in support of Huirua.
Gendall said Huirua felt crushed he was no longer part of the iwi and had been cut off from his whakapapa.
The iwi had suffered a significant loss of mana and trust as a result of Huirua's offending, he said.
Gendall said while Huirua claimed there was no intent to deprive the iwi of the money, which was lost in bad investments he was authorised to make, there was a degree of deception and manipulation in his offending.
"The fact is that you deliberately misled those who were entitled to the funds."
Huirua had named an investment company he set up Society One NZ Ltd, chosen to mirror the large Australian financial institution "Society One" which had an annual turnover in excess of $1 billion.
Gendall said the name had been chosen in an attempt to avoid suspicion of iwi members.
"You knew perfectly well what you were doing. It demonstrated an intent to be dishonest."
The loss of the money, which was part of its Treaty settlement, had caused further harm to the iwi as it was restitution to make amends for the historic harm caused by colonialisation.
Gendall noted Huirua had wanted to engage in a restorative justice conference with the iwi but it had been declined.
While Huirua had offered to work at a reduced rate of pay for the iwi to help pay off the losses, Gendall wasn't persuaded to give him the full discount on his sentence for remorse.
He said the iwi described Huirua as arrogant, willing to do anything to save himself but didn't want to get his hands dirty.
Gendall said when Huirua had been asked by the iwi to sweep floors, do dishes and clean toilets he wouldn't, believing the jobs were beneath him.
Huirua was sentenced to a total of two years and 11 months' imprisonment.
In its 2003 Treaty settlement Ngā Rauru Kītahi, one of eight generally recognised iwi of Taranaki, entered into a Deed of Settlement with the Crown for its historical claims which included financial redress of $31 million.
In 2016 the Sydney-based Huirua was contracted by a trust, set up by the iwi for charitable purposes, when he was appointed to the board of the company heading its investment arm.
Until then the iwi had taken a conservative approach to investing but on the advice of Huirua, who boasted banking and investment experience from working in the National Australia Bank (NAB), it diversified into a more direct investment of funds including cryptocurrencies.
The 58-year-old was actively involved in managing large direct investments up to a value of $26 million.
Bank accounts and companies were set up by Huirua for the purpose of investing in commodities, foreign currencies and cryptocurrencies.
Huirua was the sole director and shareholder of both companies he established.
He arranged for the iwi to make payments to the companies, which were then transferred into Australian bank accounts in the names of various brokers and into his personal bank account.
Huirua's dishonesty started to show in March 2019, when he lost his job with NAB for breaching rules regarding share trading accounts.
Rather than advising the iwi of a $2.6 million loss in trading, Huirua instead attempted to keep the ruse running by creating two fictitious investment managers to confirm payments had been made.
However, at a hui in November 2019, Huirua was quizzed why payments had been made into accounts he controlled and into his own personal bank accounts.
He claimed he had acted alone and had believed the iwi was investing in him and his knowledge but a run of bad luck with his "trading strategies" resulted in the losses.