Mystery surrounds efforts by Heart of the City to claw back millions of ratepayers' dollars from disgraced former chief executive Alex Swney, after the publicly funded organisation successfully secured gagging orders in the High Court.
Heart of the City announced in December it was taking High Court action against Swney and had secured freezing orders in a bid to recover funds, but an information blackout has been in place since.
In the interim Swney pleaded guilty to 39 charges of evading tax on more than $3 million of income, a large chunk of which - according to a summary of facts prepared for the District Court - was obtained following his use of forged invoices.
The Herald reported Swney had directed more than $300,000 annually to himself from Heart of the City for more than a decade, despite his job of chief executive paying substantially less and being only part-time.
Swney will be sentenced on April 30 and has been told to expect a sentence of imprisonment.
A spokeswoman for the Serious Fraud Office said its investigation into Swney was ongoing.
Swney was a high-profile figure on the Auckland business and social scenes, who lived in multimillion-dollar mansions and once ran for mayor, claiming that Aucklanders were overtaxed.
A Herald request to view the High Court file covering the asset recovery action by Heart of the City was this week declined by Justice Kit Toogood. Both Swney and Heart of the City argued to keep the file secret.
Justice Toogood noted in his judgment that although "there is legitimate public interest in Heart of the City's affairs including, particularly, matters related to its finances and the actions of its former chief executive", he agreed with the requests to keep the case secret.
A High Court registrar said the judge's reasons for declining access to the file were suppressed, and as the case file was now sealed, even the reasoning behind and scope of a wide-ranging suppression order would also be kept secret.
In outlining the background to the case, Justice Toogood said Heart of the City considered its long-term chief executive Swney to have been its "high profile public face", but was now seeking damages to "compensate for losses which it says were suffered as a result of his improper conduct".
Heart of the City has taken action against Swney, as well as his wife Ange Marshall in her capacity as a co-trustee of the Country Style and Swney-Marshall trusts. Marshall has not been accused of any wrongdoing in legal action taken against her husband.
Swney, for his part, is defending the claim and denies allegations of improper conduct. Contacted yesterday, Swney said his legal position meant he was unable to comment further.
Heart of the City's interim chief executive David Wright said legal advice had led to applications to take the case out of the public eye.
"I cannot say any more, in light of the confidentiality obligations," he said.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Len Brown said senior Auckland Council executives were meeting regularly with the Heart of the City board and were being kept informed of developments in the case.
Further questions to the mayor about the extent of liability to ratepayers from the saga were deflected with a reference to the April sentencing.
Six months on from Swney's sudden departure, councillors are still in the dark over the hole in council accounts and have been urged to avoid speaking out on the issue.
Cameron Brewer said he was not privy to any information about the case that was not already public.
"We as councillors have been cautioned against making any public statements as well."
Brewer said despite his lack of knowledge, the Heart of the City board seemed to be handling matters well. "They have decided to close ranks on certain matters - yes, this is public money - but the board has a mandate from members to get on and do that job, and that mandate hasn't been withdrawn."
Tax cheat's exclusive gift to wife
Convicted tax cheat Alex Swney bought his wife a ring from an exclusive Italian jeweller during the decade he failed to pay tax.
Swney's wife, accessories designer Ange Marshall, told Viva magazine in 2012 her husband bought her a lace ring made by Italian jewellers Buccellati for her 40th birthday in 2006.
"We had first seen it in Elba a year before and he had seen, and heard, incessantly, how I had fallen for this little known 500-year-old Italian jewellery family. It's like a piece of lace around my finger," she said.
Marshall, who owns and operates handbag and shoe boutique Briarwood, has not been accused of any wrongdoing in legal action taken against her husband.
Buccellati is described by Forbes magazine as Italy's "most exclusive luxury jewellery brand".
Jewellery websites list Buccellati rings for sale for up to $35,000.
Swney declined to comment on the ring, citing ongoing legal issues.
A source close to the couple said the ring was 15 years old and damaged when bought, and worth considerably less than the high-end pieces listed for sale online