An influential business leader has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he fraudulently obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars from an iwi trust he once chaired.
Roger Pikia, a former adviser to the Māori King, was due to appear in the Auckland District Court last Friday to formally enter pleas.
However, the 52-year-old's hearing did not proceed, with court staff telling the Herald his lawyer instead entered not guilty pleas by notice and also elected trial by jury.
Pikia was under investigation from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for years before being accused of a criminal deception worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The allegations stem from his time as chairman of the Te Arawa River Iwi Trust (Tarit) and its investment company Tarit Holdings Limited (THL) between 2014 and 2016, the SFO has said. The trust acts to represent three iwi within the upper Waikato River catchment area.
Pikia faces charges of obtaining by deception, corrupt acceptance of gift by an agent, receiving a secret reward for procuring a contract, attempting to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to commit an offence.
After first appearing in court in December, Pikia told reporters: "I strenuously deny these allegations and unequivocally state, that we will be vigorously defending the charges."
His case is next due to be heard in May.
Charging documents show Pikia is accused of advising THL to enter into a contract with Ka Ora Ltd, a health food company Pikia is a director and previous shareholder of, to buy shares for $400,000 without disclosing he had agreed to receive shares to the same value as a gift.
The SFO further claims he attempted to obstruct or defeat the course of justice by altering minutes of a THL board meeting.
And while acting as an agent of THL, the SFO alleges Pikia corruptly offered to accept or solicited a payment of $150,000 as a reward for lending his support as a board member in favour of buying a Rotorua property.
It is also alleged he obtained $364,500 from Tarit through timesheets falsely representing his engagement in residual settlement negotiations.
Pikia is charged alongside a consultant with links to the Tongan royal family who is wanted for arrest and no longer believed to be in New Zealand, the Herald revealed in January.
Soane Ramanlal, 62, is accused by the SFO of conspiring with Pikia to commit the offence of obtaining by deception between January and June 2016, a charging document reads.
He allegedly reached an agreement with Pikia to obtain control over cutting rights in the 'Eua Forest from THL, by allegedly omitting to disclose he owned TW Global Corp with intent to deceive the THL board.
The plantation on 'Eua island is about 500ha of predominantly Caribbean pine and is the only major forestry area in Tonga, according to a 2017 management plan for the kingdom's forests and tree resources.
Tarit said in an earlier statement the legal action was not impacting its ongoing operations.