A Charities Services investigation into alleged misappropriation at the office of the Māori King is concentrating on a mysterious $46,000 invoice for weight-loss surgery.
The Herald on Sunday has reviewed other invoices issued by the same hospital for the same gastric band procedure, and the September 2016 invoice in question differs from others in omitting details that would identify the patient.
Exactly who had the expensive procedure done privately at Auckland's MercyAscot hospital, paid for out of a Tainui Group Holdings fund dedicated to the healthcare of King Tūheitia Paki, is unknown. Although the King has had the procedure, his operation pre-dates the invoice in question by three years.
Tukoroirangi Morgan, who from 2012 until late last year was the King's representative to Tainui's executive arm, said he was involved in setting up the fund later used to pay the invoice.
"The funds that were set aside for medical assistance for the king was there for him, and him alone."
Morgan claimed those terms were clearly outlined "to the King and everyone close to the office to the king".
Morgan said the Charities Services investigation was a serious matter: "No one's above the law. We have to comply with it. And we are duty-bound to live within the boundaries of the charitable tax status, and any contravention of this is a major concern for all us tribal members."
A spokesman for Internal Affairs, which oversees the Charities Services, said as the investigation was ongoing the department was limited in its ability to comment. "The Department is making good progress on what is a complex case involving the investigation of an individual associated with the trust," the spokesman said.
Sources said internal debate at Tainui initially pointed the finger at one of the King's relatives, but documents reviewed by the Weekend Herald showed their operation was in March 2014 and was paid for by other sources.
The King's principal secretary, Rangi Whakaruru, also had the operation.
Whakaruru, who has not replied to emails or phone calls over the past six months, this week said at Auckland Airports' domestic arrivals gate he was aware of the Charities Services interest in the invoice.
But Whakaruru, who is paid an annual salary of more than $200,000 from the charity handling the King's affairs, denied it related to his own treatment.
A trim-looking Whakaruru has recently lost a third of his body weight and confirmed this was a result of recent gastric band surgery, but told the Herald on Sunday he was unable to recall exactly when the operation took place.
Whakaruru said he had the procedure for health reasons. "It's about looking after yourself," he said.
Asked how that procedure was paid for, he said "by myself".
In a subsequent email, Whakaruru declined to provide proof of payment, or sign a privacy waiver allowing MercyAscot to release invoicing details for his operation. "I have no comment on what [you] are asking," he said.
Whakaruru has been a close confidante to King Tūheitia since 2009.
Andrew Wong, managing director of MercyAscot, said patient confidentiality and privacy laws meant he was unable to resolve the mystery for the Herald on Sunday.
"Nor am I in a position to comment on what may or may not have been said to you by the patient concerned as related to the invoice," he said.
Asked about the unusual nature of the invoice submitted to Tainui, particularly the blank spaces where patient identification details are typically printed, Wong said: "At times we are requested to direct invoices in a certain way, and we accommodate those requests. Whatever the arrangement is between the patient and the person to whom the invoice is sent is a matter for them to handle as they see fit."
Tainui chief executive Donna Flavell and spokesman Jason Ake did not reply to questions and calls this week.