Willie Jackson says iwi leaders want to take control of money set aside for urban interests.

Urban Maori leaders are threatening legal action over what they say is an outrageous attempt by their iwi counterparts to take control of a $20 million fund set aside to serve the interests of Maori who have migrated from their ancestral lands and no longer have strong tribal links.

National Urban Maori Authority (Numa) chairman Willie Jackson has vowed to halt what he calls an "iwi cash grab" of the urban Maori fisheries fund (Te Puea Whakatupa).

Mr Jackson said he was appalled at a recommendation by a subcommittee of Te Ohu Kai Moana (TOKM) - the Maori Fisheries Trust - that iwi effectively take control of a fund set aside for urban Maori through the 2004 Maori Fisheries Act.

The trust is holding a hui today in Wellington to vote on recommendations coming out of an independent statutory review of the bodies established by the 2004 settlement.

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That review suggests the urban fund be owned by an alliance of five urban Maori bodies with between three and five shares also held by the trust. Five directors of the fund would then be appointed by majority vote.

However, the proposal to be put to a vote at the trust hui simply states that the number of directors be increased from three to five - a move Mr Jackson and fellow former MP John Tamihere say will give iwi leaders total control over the fund.

"There is $540 million in assets allocated for iwi, of which less than 5 per cent is set aside to support the needs and aspirations of urban Maori," Mr Jackson said. "Now iwi are being told by TOKM to take it all? We can't allow that to happen."

Mr Tamihere was a key figure in the establishment of the fund and has served on the Te Puea Whakatupa board for the past six years with two iwi appointees. Mr Tamihere said that in three of those six years he had left meetings to intentionally collapse the quorum as he disagreed with proposals on how the fund should be distributed.

"I'd just walk out of the meetings to stop them voting our money away to stupid things," Mr Tamihere said.

As a result of the lack of distributions the fund had now grown to $26 million.

Urban maori authorities had granted the fisheries trust oversight of the fund with "good intent" when the act was negotiated. However, iwi leaders had subsequently "skewed the scrum", Mr Tamihere said.

"We've had to wait until the review period came to relitigate how they have abused their mana that we gave them for good reasons."

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Legal action would centre on the claim that urban Maori had effectively been excluded from accessing a fund set up for their benefit.

"The Fisheries Commission can't 10 years down the track continue to exclude urban Maori consultation for the delivery of that money into urban Maori communities," he said. "That's what it was set up for."

Mr Tamihere could not explain why iwi leaders would want to co-opt the urban fund as they already had control over the vast majority of the $540 settlement.

Trust chief executive Peter Douglas said he could not comment as had not seen a statement of claim from Mr Tamihere.

Fisheries tug of war

• The 2004 Maori Fisheries Act provided $540 million to settle Maori claims over fishing rights.

• $20 million was set aside for urban Maori interests after groups representing Maori with no strong tribal links won a legal battle that they be included in the settlement process.

• The act is now the subject of a mandatory 12-year review. Urban Maori groups say iwi are using the process to take control of their $20 million trust and are threatening to take the matter to court.