NZ sportsman linked to US meth ring loses appeal for secrecy

7:01 pm on 1 August 2019

A high-profile sportsman who allegedly helped finance an international drug syndicate has lost a second attempt to keep his identity secret.

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Auckland High Court Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The sportsman was named during the trial of a trio found guilty of importing methamphetamine from California at the High Court in Auckland this year.

He was refused permanent name suppression at trial but kept his name secret after his lawyer Mike Heron indicated he would challenge the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The senior court dismissed the appeal this afternoon but granted the sportsman a further week to seek leave to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The sportsman was a connected person in the trial of Tevita Fangupo, Tevita Kulu and Toni Finau; a trio found guilty of a majority of charges they faced in relation to importing and supplying methamphetamine.

Fangupo and Kulu imported large amounts of methamphetamine into New Zealand from California in 2017 while Finau was party to several importations.

The methamphetamine was imported by post in parcels of Nike footwear and other clothing that were declared as gifts.

At trial, the Crown presented evidence it said showed the sportsman played a role in the importations through transporting and changing currency.

The Crown also cited social media messages it said showed Finau supplied the sportsman with methamphetamine.

Although the sportsman was the subject of police interest he was never actually spoken to, having exercised his right to silence, and was never charged.

In their decision released this afternoon Justice Courtney, Justice Venning and Justice Dunningham said they considered the sportsman's alleged involvement in the financing of importations was relevant.

"There is, unquestionably, a high public interest in how methamphetamine comes into New Zealand including how it is financed and transported and how it is distributed once it arrives.

"The public has an interest in knowing who is behind this offending, including those who assist or enable it to occur, even if not directly involved."

They disagreed with Mr Heron's submission that publication of his client's name would result in allegations of criminal conduct he could not defend.

"In our view, [the sportsman] did have the opportunity to respond to the allegations but did not do so. By the time the application was argued [the sportsman] had made no response, either by affidavit or through counsel," the decision read.

"It is only now, on appeal, that he has said through counsel that he denies the allegations."

It also found there was "legitimate public interest" in the decision of police not to charge someone who was named in evidence of a criminal trial as a person who may have been involved.

"There is a legitimate public interest in knowing of allegations of serious conduct against a person who enjoys a high public profile and of the fact that the police have not considered that charges are warranted."

It said care to fully report the proceedings was needed to ensure the case did not become "trial by media".

"The allegations against [the sportsman] are no more than that; they have not been proven and there is currently no forum for that to happen.

"It can, however, be assumed that the media will observe its obligation to report in a fair and balanced manner and make clear the limits on conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence given at trial."

The sportsman's appeal was dismissed. He has until 3pm Tuesday to seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, otherwise his suppression will lapse at 3pm Thursday 8 August.