$90,000 was 'toy money', court told

More than $90,000 in $20 notes - allegedly smelling of cannabis - is at the centre of a Rotorua money laundering trial.

Valentine Barclay Nicholas, 52, and a co-accused, whose name is suppressed, are each charged with one count of money laundering between August 30 and September 25, 2006. Their trial began in the Rotorua District Court yesterday.

The Crown alleges Nicholas had acquired $90,300 of "dirty money" from the sale of cannabis. He then knowingly engaged in a money laundering transaction to "clean it up" and buy a forestry block, it's alleged.

The co-accused is charged with engaging in a money laundering transaction, being reckless as to whether the money was the proceeds of serious crime.

Crown prosecutor Chris Macklin said Nicholas gave the cash to the co-accused, who deposited it into his family trust's account at National Bank Rotorua on August 30, 2006.

He said the bank tellers noticed the smell of cannabis on the wads of $20 notes, which were tied with rubber bands.

About September 25 the co-accused wrote cheques from the account to pay the debts of a forestry block owner who was in financial trouble.

"At the end of the day Mr Nicholas wants a forestry block to go hunting on," Mr Macklin said.

"Through somebody else's account he pays off the debt of the company that owns the forestry block . . . to acquire it for himself."

Mr Macklin said the plan was Nicholas would get the land and "no one would ever be the wiser as to how that had been purchased".

During his opening address, Mr Macklin explained to the jury what money laundering meant.

"Can you imagine having $90,300 in $20 notes?" he said. "Somebody who's stuck with that quantity of cash that they can't explain . . . is in a difficult position. They need to clean it up."

Nicholas and his co-accused had tried to conceal the origin of that cash, he said.

Mr Macklin said the co-accused told police the $90,300 was "toy money" he'd earned legitimately through selling property to mates and "mates of mates" for cash.

He denied being involved in money laundering. Nicholas "hadn't said anything much" to police but would likely dispute the money came from dealing cannabis, Mr Macklin said.

Mr Macklin warned the jury the trial would be complicated.

"It's a tangled web we weave when we try to deceive."

The trial is set down for seven days with the defence expected to open later in the week.

By Katie Holland of the Rotorua Daily Post