6 Sep 2018

Waitangi Trust fraud: 'It's been a pretty horrible time for everyone'

2:12 pm on 6 September 2018

The man who hired the Waitangi Trust's financial manager had known the fraudster for 14 years and thought he was the least corruptible person he knew.

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The money was ripped off from the Trust responsible for the Treaty grounds at Waitangi. Photo: 123rf.com

Greg McManus is the chief executive of the Trust that runs the Treaty grounds.

He's still getting over being ripped off by Wallace Te Ahuru who stole $1.2 million dollars to fund a lifestyle that included gambling, cosmetic surgery and adult entertainment.

Te Ahuru pleaded guilty in the Manukau District Court yesterday to two charges of obtaining by deception, and seven charges of using forged documents.

The charges followed a lengthy investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Mr McManus said he was pleased Te Ahuru had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

"It gives us a bit of closure and we can move on. It's been a pretty horrible time for everyone at the Trust, the last eight months and I think we are all pleased it's not going to be dragged out.

Mr McManus had recruited Te Ahuru and was devastated by the discovery of his fraud, he said.

"When I was the director of the Rotorua Museum he worked there from the age of 16. He came on a work scheme from school and worked for council right up until 2012 and then when I moved up here he applied for a position here and got it. "

Mr McManus said he had never had any doubts about Te Ahuru's integrity.

"In fact I would have described him as the least corruptible person that I knew so as you can imagine it came as a huge shock, " he said.

Te Ahuru had always dressed well and enjoyed the finer things in life, telling people that his skills as a futures trader enabled him to maintain his extravagant lifestyle.

The chief executive found out about the fraud in January of this year, but said the SFO had been investigating the Trust for months before that.

"We discovered some internal accounting irregularities and at the start we thought it was just bad accounting. So we called in Deloitte to come in and do a review and the fraud was discovered during that review."

Over the period that Te Ahuru had been siphoning off funds into his personal account, from June 2016 to September 2017, the Trust had had two regular audits, Mr McManus said.

Neither had picked up the fact that money was missing.

"My comment on that is that when you have someone who has criminal intent, and the ability to cover their tracks, it's very difficult to find any evidence of wrongdoing," he said.

Mr McManus said the Trust had since tightened up its financial checks and balances and he was as confident as he could be that it could not be defrauded again.

The Waitangi National Trust receives no funding from the government and relies on visitor fees for its income.

It was forced to cut back on seasonal staff last summer because of its empty coffers, and had still not recovered from the financial blow Mr McManus said.

Te Ahuru was remanded in custody and will be sentenced in November.