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Five years' jail for $1m council bribery

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 21/02/2017

A former senior Auckland Transport manager who took more than $1 million in payments from a contractor has been jailed.

Murray Noone, 53, was last year found guilty of taking what prosecutors say was about $1.1m in bribes between 2006 and 2013 and on Wednesday was handed a sentence of five years' prison.

His co-accused, 52-year-old Stephen Borlase, who owned and ran engineering consultancy company Projenz, was sentenced to fives years and six months' jail for bribing Noone another council staffer.

Sentencing the pair in the High Court at Auckland, Justice Sally Fitzgerald said such offending seriously undermined confidence in the public service and risked damaging the international reputation of New Zealand, where public corruption was "virtually non-existent".

In a victim impact statement given to the court, Auckland Transport said the case had left some staff demoralised and embarrassed from being tarred with the same brush, Justice Fitzgerald said.

She said while there was no evidence the payments had actually influenced the outcome of two council tenders in the period, the logical conclusion was they were meant to influence Noone.

Prosecutor Brian Dickey told the court the offending had been large-scale, prolonged - nearly monthly over seven-and-a-half years - and the two men had gone to lengths to cover it up.

Corruption "flourished" and had been "normalised" by the scale and extent of the exchanges between Projenz and staff, he said.

But Noone's lawyer, Simon Lance, said his client had gone as far as not attending meetings involving Projenz to stay neutral on council contract decisions.

"The only gain achieved was the maintenance of a relationship," Borlase's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, said.

The court heard Noone - who managed the council's contracts for its northern road maintenance - was given about 300 payments from Projenz and another $56,000 in gifts, including accommodation and overseas trips that had nothing to do with work - and failed to disclose his relationship with Projenz.

In the period of the offending Projenz's invoices to the council rose from $4m to $16m, becoming the bulk of its business, prosecutors said.

During the trial, Borlase argued Noone was a being paid as a consultant for Projenz's South Island division, but Justice Fitzgerald no documented evidence had been provided of that.

After sentencing, Auckland Transport chief infrastructure officer Greg Edmonds noted the judge had said the pair's actions did not reflect on other staff.'

"At the heart of this issue is a serious breach of trust by two individuals whose actions are in no way an indication of any sort of systematic failure," he said in a statement.

Another senior AT manager, Barrie George - who reported directly to Noone - was last year sentenced to 10 months' home detention for taking about $100,000 in gifts, after coming forward over what was called a culture of gift-giving between contractors and council staff.

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