Businesswoman ordered to return millions

A businesswoman honoured by the Queen will be appealing a court order to return more than $14 million to a Maori land trust.

Rae Beverley Adlam was found by the Maori Land Court to have "committed a blatant breach of trust'' by taking money for self-gain from the process of developing geothermal powerstations on family land in Kawerau.

She was ordered to pay the Bath Trust (formerly the Savage Papakainga Land Trust) $11.2 million from the sale of a geothermal power station and royalties received from Bay of Plenty Electricity of $2.4 million. Adlam was also ordered to pay $823,000 in interest.

The projects emerged through her Masters of Business Studies thesis and were developed in the early 1990s. They relate to Maori land referred to as Lot 39A Sec 2A Parish of Matata Block (Bath Trust).

During the hearing held in Rotorua in 2012, Adlam claimed she was entitled to the money as a developer's fee.

She was made a member of New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008 for her leadership, business and community roles.

In the judgment released last week, Judge Craig Coxhead said Adlam was not to charge or be entitled to a salary.

"Ms Adlam was in a position where her duties as a trustee conflicted with her personal interest. In taking money due to the Bath Trust for her own use [she] committed a blatant breach of trust.

"In my view the seriousness of the blatant breach, the amount of money involved and the length of time the beneficiaries have been deprived of the funds, outweighs all those factors in favour of granting an allowance or developer's fee for Ms Adlam.''

A court ruling in 2008 had suspended Adlam as a trustee but Judge Coxhead ordered that she be removed from the trust.

Adlam's lawyer Dan Hughes told the Rotorua Daily Post he had been instructed to lodge an appeal in the next few days.

"We are of the view that there a number of appealable grounds and we will be pursuing these through the Maori Appellate Court,'' he said.

"Given the matter will shortly be back before the court it is inappropriate for me to say anymore than that for now.''

In 2008, Adlam was suspended by the Maori Land Court as a trustee of the Savage Papakainga Land Trust after she admitted taking trust funds for her own use.

She was also convicted of 24 charges of tax evasion and ordered to pay Inland Revenue $133,000 and fined $75,000 in 2012.

- By Dana Kinita of the Rotorua Daily Post 

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