A former employee of a company owned by Sir Peter Jackson has been convicted of fraud on charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office.
A jury found Eugene John DeMarco, aged 57, guilty today of six counts of fraud at the conclusion of a trial in the High Court in Wellington.
He was formerly production manager of an aircraft manufacturer, The Vintage Aviator Limited (TVAL), a company owned by Sir Peter Jackson and his wife Dame Fran Walsh.
The movie mogul was called as a witness in the trial, where he explained how the company and his relationship with DeMarco had come about.
He said it eventually became clear that "Gene didn't like people looking over his shoulder", but he and partner Dame Fran Walsh still wanted to maintain oversight, so appointed two "utterly trustworthy" directors of the company - their personal lawyer and personal accountant.
He described how DeMarco came to him asking for a $620,000 loan so he could buy a pair of World War II planes to save them from being sold internationally. It was to be short-term loan, paid off within a year.
But as time went on, the loan still hadn't been repaid.
Sir Peter said DeMarco then spoke to him in 2016 about an "old fella" in Auckland who had won the lottery and wanted to buy some World War I planes to donate to the NZ Warbirds Association.
"This was at a time where there was a lot of tension and pressure around Gene repaying the debt ... There was a lot of, kind of, inherent anger in the air around this," he said.
No solid plans were made to sell the plane, as far as he knew.
"The next thing that I recall was that I was just surfing the internet one evening in earlyish 2017 and I saw a photograph from a New Zealand Warbirds open day."
Sir Peter had spotted a photo of one of his planes. He had not heard anything about a sale being made so began asking questions. It turned out the company had received no money from the sale.
He then tracked down the man who had bought the planes, who found his chequebook and told him how much he'd paid.
"I said these are vastly overpriced planes, this is not our price," Sir Peter said
DeMarco was convicted of "Theft by person in a special relationship" and "Obtaining by deception" in relation to the sale of three reproduction vintage aircraft to the New Zealand Warbirds Association Inc.
He was convicted of "Theft by person in a special relationship" in relation to a BE2e aircraft, owned by TVAL. He was also found guilty of "Theft by person in a special relationship" and "Obtaining by Deception" in relation to the unauthorised use of another vintage aircraft, a P-40, as security to obtain a loan.
A statement from the SFO said he broke the law on several counts to rid himself of a debt of more than $1 million he owed to a trust controlled by Jackson and Walsh. The purpose of the loan, which was expected to be a short-term one, was to assist the defendant gain full ownership of a company he co-owned.
The Director of the SFO, Julie Read, said, "Mr DeMarco defrauded his employer, a charitable organisation, a friend and a bank. His offending was premeditated and driven by self-interest. The prosecution of such matters is an important aspect of protecting New Zealand's reputation as a safe place to invest and do business."
DeMarco is scheduled to be sentenced at the High Court in Wellington on October 31.