22 Feb 2017

Pair jailed over $1m bribery case

8:34 pm on 22 February 2017

A senior Auckland roading manager was able to receive more than $1.1 million in payments from a council contractor for more than seven years without his bosses knowing.

Auckland High Court.

Photo: RNZ

The country's largest bribery case came to an end today with two prison sentences.

Former Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport senior manager Murray Noone was sentenced to five years' jail, while Stephen Borlase, director of engineering firm Projenz, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.

Borlase had faced 12 charges from the Serious Fraud Office for corruption and bribery over roading contracts. He was found guilty of eight of the charges in December last year and acquitted on four charges of inflating invoices.

Noone was found guilty of six charges of accepting the bribes.

The court was told Borlase's company made more than $1.1m in payments to Noone for consultancy services over seven-and-a-half years.

The payments were kept secret from Noone's council bosses and there was no evidence any of the work actually took place.

Borlase's company also paid for overseas travel for Noone and another senior roading engineer, Barry George. George was earlier sentenced to 10 months' home detention.

The company even paid for 55 nights of hotel accommodation as Noone was going through a rough patch in his marriage.

In the High Court in Auckland today, Justice Fitzgerald said Noone worked as a contractor for Borlase's Porjenz engineering company in 2000 - six years later he was employed by the Rodney District Council as director of transport.

He told the council chief executive that he was still doing private consultancy work, but did not mention doing any work for Projenz.

"Rather, you indicated that your primary client was Queenstown Lakes District Council but that the work was winding down. That was untrue as at that time you were receiving far greater sums of money from Projenz and those payments were by no means winding down. In fact, they would only wind up."

While at the Rodney District Council, Noone sent invoices of $8000 to $10,000 to Projenz every month, bar one, for consultancy services, but no work was done.

He continued to bill Projenz when Rodney was amalgamated into Auckland Council and he was made a manager at Auckland Transport.

Justice Fitzgerald said he had four discussions with his bosses about his consultancy work but never made any mention of his work for Projenz.

George - who gave evidence for the Crown and is serving a sentence of 10 months' home detention - received more than $100,000 in travel, including trips to Cambodia, Thailand, Fiji and Hong Kong and other benefits.

"I found these payments and benefits were provided in connection with and with the intent to influence Mr Noone and Mr George in their official roles."

The judge said it was important to note that there was no evidence that Noone or George helped Projenz during tender processes during their time at Rodney or Auckland Transport.

"There is no doubt that the payments and benefits provided to Mr Noone and to Mr George were provided in a context of a culture of collaboration, being encouraged by both RDC and Auckland Transport. However, I want to make clear that a culture of collaboration in no way extended to, sanctioned or excused the provision of such significant payments and benefits."

Justice Fitzgerald read from the victim impact statement of Auckland Transport chief infrastructure officer Greg Edmonds, who said the case had generated media attention and public suspicion.

"Mr Edmonds also reports that your actions have impacted more generally on employee morale, such as some employees being embarrassed to say they work for Auckland Transport, and the unjustified risk of being tarred with the same brush."

Justice Fitzgerald said the offending had damaged New Zealand's reputation and the case was more serious than that of former Labour MP Taito Phillip Field.

Outside court, Mr Edmonds said the case had made an impact on staff morale and tarnished the organisation's reputation.

He said the offending came to light when he and others started questioning some of the paperwork they were being asked to sign.

"We were asking some commercial questions as to why we were giving this particular supplier, this level of work and at this price and, over a period of six to nine months, we built up a view that maybe there was something not quite right in the way this work was being allocated."

He said council workers now have to disclose every gift they receive worth more than $100.