4 Aug 2009

Field conviction first for bribery, corruption as MP

10:00 pm on 4 August 2009

Taito Phillip Field has been found guilty of bribery and corruption as a Member of Parliament, the first such convictions ever to be handed down in New Zealand.

Field, who is no longer an MP, was on Tuesday found guilty of 11 charges of bribery and corruption and 15 counts of obstruction of justice.

The Crown had accused the former Labour MP for Mangere of 12 charges of bribery and corruption, and 23 charges of attempting to obstruct or pervert justice.

Field was accused of giving immigration favours to Thai people in return for work on his properties and creating elaborate falsehoods to hide his actions.

He steadfastly denied all charges throughout the 16-week trial, which began in April.

The 10-person jury at the High Court in Auckland began deliberating about midday on Thursday and delivered its verdicts just before 5pm on Tuesday.

The Crown argued during the trial that Field knowingly took advantage of the workers, and abused his position as an MP and senior government member.

But Field's defence denied that, arguing that he was naive and clumsy, but kind and humane.

Field, the first Pacific Island person elected to Parliament, was acquitted of just one of the bribery and corruption charges he faced. He was cleared of accepting painting work from three Thai people at his property in Otahuhu, South Auckland.

Field showed little emotion as the verdicts were read out on Tuesday, but his family and close supporters cried outside the court and his wife, Maxine Field, needed help walking from the court.

Field will be sentenced on 6 October. Both sets of charges carry a maximum jail term of seven years for each individual count.

Crown lawyer Simon Moore says the jury was conscientious in its duty during the trial, which included about 4000 pages of evidence.

Detective Superintendent Malcolm Burgess, who led the police inquiry, says the significant factor in the convictions was evidence from some key witnesses who were prepared to come forward.

Mr Burgess says police accept the jury's decision to acquit Field of the other charges and will not make any comment regarding sentencing.

Too soon to consider appeal - says lawyer

Field's lawyer Paul Davison, QC, says being acquitted of nine charges is of little relief to his client.

Mr Davison the acquittals are not necessarily grounds for an appeal and it is too premature to talk of this.

However, a lawyer who acted for Field in earlier hearings says he believes there are firm grounds for an appeal.

Simativa Perese says he is disappointed in the verdict, but not surprised, because of the way the law is structured. He says the matter depends on whether the right test was applied to the offences under section 103 of the Crimes Act.

Sad day for politics, says PM

Prime Minister John Key says it is a sad day for New Zealand politics and the verdict reflects badly on Parliament.

Mr Key says, however, it is an isolated case and criticised the previous Labour-led Government's response to the allegations against Field.

Mr Key said the Labour administration had wanted to park the matter for political reasons.

The Labour Party on Tuesday released a brief statement acknowledging the convictions.

Chief whip Darren Hughes says the party has acted in good faith throughout the matter.