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Guilty verdicts over $1m council bribery

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/12/2016
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A senior Auckland Transport manager who took more than $1 million in payments from a contractor has been found guilty of bribery charges.

And the business owner who paid him has also been convicted.

Former Auckland Transport manager Murray Noone, 53, stood trial on corruption charges for taking what prosecutors say was about $1.1m in bribes between 2006 and 2013.

His co-accused, 52-year-old Stephen Borlase, who owned and ran roading consulting company Projenz, was accused of bribing Noone and other council staff, and of inflating invoices to the Rodney District Council to recoup the costs of the gifts.

At the High Court at Auckland on Friday, Justice Sally Fitzgerald found Noone guilty of six charges of receiving bribes, while Borlase of was found guilty of eight charges of offering them.

However, Borlase was found not guilty on four charges of dishonestly using documents to inflate his invoices.

The charges were brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

"It appears that within the road maintenance division during this period the acceptance of gratuities was considered the norm," director Julie Read said in a statement after sentencing.

"All of us need to recognise that corrupt activity is at risk of gaining momentum if business turns a blind eye. That sort of behaviour cannot be tolerated if we are to continue to promote New Zealand as a safe place to invest and do business."

The men will be sentenced on February 22.

During the eight-week trial, the Crown said Noone - who managed the council's contracts for its northern road maintenance - was given about 300 payments from Projenz and about $80,000 in gifts, including 11 overseas trips that had nothing to do with work - and failed to disclose his relationship with Projenz.

Prosecutors said Borlase also gave gifts to other employees at the council's transport division, including overseas and domestic travel, accommodation, entertainment, and more than $100,000 in dinners at upmarket restaurants.

"The payments ... were treated as costs of doing business with RDC," prosecutor Brian Dickey said.

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

But Borlase argued Noone was a being paid as a consultant for Projenz's South Island division and was "instrumental" in getting the company new clients.

Noone's lawyer said the tender process had never been tainted and the charges were just suspicion.

Earlier this year, another senior AT manager, Barrie George - who reported directly to Noone - was 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.

Mr Dickey told the court corruption "flourished" and had been "normalised" by the scale and extent of the exchanges between Projenz and staff.

In a statement, Auckland Transport said Borlase and Noone's actions were not indicative of a wider problem.

"Their actions are not an indication of any sort of systemic failure but rather those of two individuals betraying the trust placed in them," AT chief executive David Warburton said.

Rodney District Council was disestablished in 2010 when it became part of the Auckland super city, with its transport work moving over to Auckland Transport.

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