A top Kiwi sports star has continued his courtroom fight for permanent name suppression after prosecutors accused him of being involved in a global drug conspiracy.
The sportsman was named during the drug-trafficking trial of Tevita Fangupo, Tevita Kulu and Toni Finau in Auckland last year.
Despite not being charged, the sports star was accused by the Crown of being "intimately" linked to the offending, which included methamphetamine importations from California.
He has strenuously denied the allegations, including under oath.
After the trial, presiding judge Justice Mathew Downs declined an initial bid for permanent name suppression. This led to a series of appeal hearings, including by the Court of Appeal, which declined suppression for the sportsman last year.
However, as all involved prepared for a Supreme Court showdown, the case returned to the High Court after new information emerged and led to a fresh suppression application.
But in June, the High Court and Justice Downs again dismissed the effort for a forever gag order.
Today, after another appeal by the sports star, the Court of Appeal heard the case for a second time.
The sportsman's lawyer, former solicitor general Michael Heron, QC, said prosecutors had been "careless" about what they said during the trial.
"They didn't need to allege his involvement, they didn't need to name him. And when they did it wasn't fair, responsible or necessary," he said at the hearing this morning in Auckland.
Since the trial, the Crown has abandoned one of its earlier allegations against the sportsman, which relied on a series of phone messages and a contact called "Sese".
It was claimed the messages showed the sports star changing currency for the syndicate, but the allegation was withdrawn after immigration records were provided for the sportsman.
"He has never transported or changed cash for these people, he has never had any dealings with importing methamphetamine. He has said that on oath," Heron said.
The sportsman has sworn an affidavit rejecting the Crown's claims.
"I have never been involved in the importation of class A drugs. I have never changed or transported money for the defendants. I have never been involved in the purchase, supply or consumption of methamphetamine," the sportsman said.
"Nor was I charged by the police in relation to the specific messages alleged to relate to me, after what appeared to be a thorough investigation. I therefore understood that I did not need to comment on those messages to pursue my application for name suppression."
The sportsman also appended a police jobsheet to his affidavit, which suggests a search warrant against him was not executed because he was out of the country.
"It is obvious why they didn't execute the search warrant," Heron said.
"[The police] had arranged for the digital forensic unit to analyse the phone. And so when they turn up and he's not there, then the phone is not there either."
After the trial, Detective Inspector Scott Beard said the sports star did not receive "special treatment" but added "there was insufficient evidence to charge" him.
The sportsman also declined when asked by police to be interviewed.
"Whether there's a public interest or not, it's hard to see how he can be criticised for not speaking to police," Heron said.
Justice Downs has said although the police inquiry into members of the syndicate was thorough, "doubt attaches to whether the same is true of the inquiry of [the sportsman]".
And when the Court of Appeal released its first decision on the case last August, it mentioned the importance of knowing why police decide whether or not to charge a person.
"There is a legitimate public interest in knowing of allegations of serious conduct against a person who enjoys a high public profile and of the fact that the police have not considered that charges are warranted," the court's decision reads.
Today, the Court of Appeal's president, Justice Stephen Kos, said if the sports star was to be named he was in "a very good position to respond to the allegations" because he can summon the resources of his top lawyer and a public relations team.
But Heron argued if his client was identified the Crown's errors can't be suppressed.
"He has to go back and deal with allegations that weren't properly made and are unfair," he said. "Why should he have to deal with that?"
Crown lawyer Rebecca Thomson said the debate over the sports star's name suppression was not about proving the truth or falsity of the submissions the Crown made at trial.
Instead, she said, it was over the reputational hardship and financial loss to the sportsman may suffer if he was to be named.
However, she conceded it was a "very timely reminder to prosecutors that their in-court statements must be accurate at all times".
Justice Kos said: "We are left with this unfortunate trail of statements by the prosecutor leaving [the sportsman] at the heart" of the conspiracy.
Justice Kos, who heard the appeal alongside Justice Matthew Muir and Justice Edwin Wylie, has reserved the court's decision.
The sportsman's bid for suppression has also been opposed by the media, including the Herald, Stuff represented by lawyer Robert Stewart, Newshub and RNZ.
The members of the syndicate - Fangupo, Kulu, Finau and Halane Ikiua - were all sentenced to terms of imprisonment last November for the importation and supply of methamphetamine and cocaine, and conspiracy to supply drugs.
A fifth man, Shane Singh, was also jailed for importing a Class A drug.