Kiwi fashion designer convicted of fraud

Kharl WiRepa has been convicted and sentenced on 14 counts of fraud. Photo: NZ Herald/Stephen Parker
Kharl WiRepa has been convicted and sentenced on 14 counts of fraud. Photo: NZ Herald/Stephen Parker

A high-flying Rotorua fashion designer who this month featured in British Vogue will have to repay nearly $12,000 after being convicted of benefit fraud.

Glamour designer Kharl WiRepa (25) appeared in Rotorua District Court today after previously pleading guilty to 14 charges of benefit fraud, totalling $11,844.16.

The charges relate to a period between March 2013 and November 2015 when WiRepa, then a student at Waiariki Institute of Technology and Te Wananga o Aotearoa, knowingly applied for and received two allowances and an accommodation benefit he was not eligible for.

This included falsifying documents and obtaining documents by deception.

His lawyer Harry Edward argued WiRepa was at a "different place and stage in his life" at the time of his offending and it was a matter of "youthful indiscretion".

He said WiRepa was genuinely remorseful and had taken full responsibility for his actions.

"Kharl's feature in the September edition of British Vogue is another substantial feather in his cap and shows his future potential to be an outstanding member and representative of not just this community but this country."

But Judge Maree MacKenzie disagreed with the extent of WiRepa's remorse.

"This was not just a passing act of dishonesty. You clearly decided to adopt an action that over time allowed you to obtain benefits you were not entitled to.

"I am not so sure you are genuinely remorseful. Words come cheap, actions speak louder... You have not made any attempt whatsoever to make repayments to the Ministry of Social Development."

She recognised WiRepa was "community spirited" and had worked hard to establish his career in the fashion industry.

Judge MacKenzie read parts of a letter from WiRepa to the court which stated he was "advised to undertake fraudulent behaviour by his peers".

"My intentions are good and my heart is pure," the letter said.

"I am in fear of my career being damaged and my life destroyed at such a young age."

WiRepa has showcased his glamorous evening wear in a number of fashion shows, using local models as a way to give back to and uplift talented youth in his hometown.

He was the only New Zealand designer to feature in this month's edition of British Vogue - the magazine's biggest issue to date.

At age 24 he was ranked 17th on the list of 25 most influential young New Zealanders and was the organiser of last week's Miss Rotorua 2017 pageant.

Mr Edward sought a discharge without conviction and permanent name suppression on WiRepa's behalf, on the grounds publication of his name would cause him to face extreme hardship.

However, Judge Mackenzie found there was insufficient evidence to suggest this would be the case - though she agreed consequences from the publication of his name would be a penalty in itself.

In convicting WiRepa and lifting his name suppression, Judge Mackenzie said it was "not my role to have a part to play in concealing dishonesty".

WiRepa was ordered to repay the total sum and was put on a "good behaviour bond" whereby he would have to come up for sentence if called upon within a period of 12 months.

Outside court, WiRepa said he was remorseful for his actions and hoped this would be a lesson for all young people that "decisions you make while you are young can impact your life later on".

"I am prepared to take full responsibility of these actions and want to use this incident to inspire others not to commit crimes of any kind - whether that's fraud, drugs or drink driving."

WiRepa said he did not think his conviction would ultimately impact his career as a fashion designer.

"I will continue to survive, raise money for the homeless and do things for the community."

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