A prominent business leader has been charged by the Serious Fraud Office and accused of obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars through deception from an iwi trust he once chaired.
After an investigation spanning years, Roger Haare Charles Pikia, 52, appeared today in the Auckland District Court before Judge Pippa Sinclair.
It is alleged between February 2014 and December 2015 he obtained property in the sum of $364,500 from Te Arawa River Iwi Trust (Tarit) by the provision of timesheets falsely representing his engagement in residual settlement negotiations.
The trust acts to represent three iwi that fall within the Upper Waikato river catchment area.
Another charge alleges that, in May 2016 he tried to obstruct or defeat the course of justice by altering minutes of a Tarit Holdings Limited board meeting which occurred on January 22 that year.
On each of those two charges, the maximum penalty of the offence is seven years' imprisonment.
The SFO further alleges that while acting as an agent of Tarit Holdings Ltd, 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 that he advised Tarit Holdings Ltd to enter into a contract with Ka Ora Ltd to buy shares for $400,000 without disclosing he had agreed to receive shares to the same value as a gift.
The fifth charge Pikia faces is one of conspiring to obtain by deception.
Judge Pippa Sinclair remanded him on bail to appear again in late February, when he is expected to enter pleas in court.
Pikia told reporters outside court that it was nearly four years ago to the day that he first became aware of the SFO investigation.
He said he was disappointed charges had been laid but felt he will finally have a chance to address the accusations.
"I strenuously deny these allegations and unequivocally state, that we will be vigorously defending the charges," Pikia said.
"The restrictions imposed during the SFO investigation have made it impossible to speak openly and frankly about the accusations.
"This is not normal practice within an iwi setting, generally speaking nothing is off limits for discussion by the iwi."
They had assembled "a highly capable legal team" who will "turn over every rock" to defend these charges to clear his name and if necessary, go further "to bring justice to our treaty settlement", he said.
Pikia said he had been advised that it was not likely that any trial to determine these charges would occur until 2022.
"In the meantime I will be working with my lawyers to ensure that they are vigorously defended."
He wanted to thank his supporters, including his family, friends and iwi, he said.
Te Arawa Iwi River Trust issued a statement after the court appearance saying the legal action against its former chairman was not impacting its ongoing operations.
Eugene Berryman-Kamp, Tumu Whakarae (CEO) of Tarit, said the trust's annual reports and finances have been audited each year, including the full year to March 31, 2020.
"The finances of the trust are healthy, and our operations remain focused on achieving Tarit's strategic goals," Berryman-Kamp said.
Pikia stood aside as chairman of Tarit in November this year. He is no longer a director of the trust's commercial arm as he had reached the end of his term in office under the company's constitution.
Berryman-Kamp said Tarit's trustees are letting the court process take its course.