Ki­in­gi­tanga probed over claimed ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties

Maori King’s of­fice in­ves­ti­gated over al­leged fi­nan­cial mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion

Weekend Herald - - NEWS - Matt Nip­pert

The of­fice of the Maori King is be­ing probed by gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors over allegations of fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment, the Weekend Her­ald can re­veal.

Last month the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice re­ferred a de­tailed com­plaint of mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion to In­ter­nal Af­fairs whose Char­i­ties Ser­vice in­ves­ti­ga­tors have be­gan mak­ing ini­tial en­quiries.

Reg­is­tered char­ity the Uru­rangi Trust, re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing the King’s af­fairs, falls un­der the um­brella of Waikato- Tainui’s Waikato Rua­p­atu Lands Trust group. It re­ceives about $ 1.7m an­nu­ally from its par­ent to fund its op­er­a­tions.

Uru­rangi chair­man Peter Rogers con­firmed In­ter­nal Af­fairs had re­cently been in touch.

“They’re do­ing an­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

Rogers said he was un­aware of the de­tail of the com­plaint but promised his full co- op­er­a­tion and said the trust had cleared three ex­ter­nal au­dits.

“Ev­ery­thing is an open book, and the Char­i­ties Ser­vice are wel­come to come and look in,” he said.

Waikato- Tainui chief ex­ec­u­tive Donna Flavell told the Weekend Her­ald she had noth­ing to say about the probe. “It’s got noth­ing to do with you. We’re work­ing through it our­selves,” she said.

The Uru­rangi Trust has pre­vi­ously drawn the at­ten­tion of In­ter­nal Af­fairs, and a damn­ing 2015 re­port ob­tained by the Weekend Her­ald into mis- spend­ing by the King’s of­fice and saw the trust i ssued with a for­mal warn­ing no­tice.

That re­port de­tailed the King’s $ 350,000 an­nual salary and raised con­cerns about 114 trans­ac­tions be­tween 2012 and 2014 to­talling $ 120,691, re­lat­ing to the pur­chase of jew­ellery, cloth­ing and beauty treat­ments and al­most $ 90,000 in cash with­drawals.

“The trans­ac­tions are not spo­radic or in­ter­mit­tent in na­ture. They are repet­i­tive, on­go­ing and con­sis­tent,” in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded of the per­sonal spend­ing.

But the Char­i­ties Ser­vice de­clined to im­pose its harsh­est sanc­tion, dereg­is­tra­tion of the char­ity, largely on rep­re­sen­ta­tions made by Uru­rangi’s re­spected chair­man Sir John Goul­ter.

Sir John told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he had taken steps to re­form an of­fice he said was tainted by “bros em­ploy­ing bros”.

“Sir John Goul­ter, who brings a for­mi­da­ble rep­u­ta­tion along with him to the Trust and Char­i­ties Ser­vice, is of the view that the kinds of mis­takes of ig­no­rance he clearly ad­mits have oc­curred in the past would not oc­cur un­der his watch,” the re­port con­cluded.

But one month after in­ves­ti­ga­tors closed the file on the earlier com­plaint, Sir John re­signed from the Uru­rangi board. He did not re­turn calls from the Weekend Her­ald this week.

Fel­low for­mer trustee Traci Houpapa, who de­parted the Uru­rangi board at the same time as Sir John, said: “We asked to stand down, be­cause they [ the King’s of­fice] wanted a change of gov­er­nance.”

The cur­rent board of Uru­rangi com­prises Hamil­ton ac­coun­tant Rogers and He­len Kouta, who is the ex- wife of the King’s chief of staff Rangi Whakaruru.

The Ki­in­gi­tanga re­cently gained pro­file after King Tuheitia Paki made a rare en­try into na­tional pol­i­tics this elec­tion cy­cle by for­mally en­dors­ing the Maori Party and its can­di­dates.

The ef­fect of this en­dorse­ment has been un­clear, with Maori Tele­vi­sion last week re­port­ing a poll of the Hau­raki- Waikato elec­torate seat showed Rahui Papa — the King’s ad­viser and Maori Party can­di­date — trail­ing with only 20 per cent of the vote, com­pared with 78 per cent for in­cum­bent Labour Party MP Nanaia Mahuta.

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