Lawyer guilty of theft

Hugh Hamilton. Photo NZ Herald/Sarah Ivey
Hugh Hamilton. Photo NZ Herald/Sarah Ivey
A former North Island mayor and lawyer accused of helping a property developer conceal his identity so the man could borrow millions of dollars from the now-failed Belgrave Finance has this morning been found guilty of theft by a personal in a special relationship.

Hugh Edward Staples Hamilton was accused of 17 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship as well as 11 charges of false statement by a promoter, and 11 Companies Act charges of making a false statement to a trustee.

Releasing his verdicts this morning, Justice John Faire found Hamilton guilty on 14 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship. He was found not guilty on the other charges and granted bail until sentencing on Friday July 4.

The theft charges Hamilton was found guilty of come with a maximum prison sentence of 7 years' in prison.

Hamilton was a former partner of DAC Legal who advised Belgrave until its 2008 receivership.

The trial, which began in March, was jointly prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office and Financial Markets Authority and follows the 2008 collapse of Belgrave.

According to the Crown, Hamilton allegedly helped former property developer Raymond Schofield arrange the purchase of Belgrave in 2005 so that the man's identity and control of the company was hidden.

The purpose of this was to allegedly allow Schofield to borrow from the company either directly or through other companies he controlled.

Schofield was charged alongside Belgrave directors Shane Buckley and Stephen Smith in September 2011, with the SFO alleging the defendants misrepresented how investors' money would be used. The trio were also charged by the FMA for allegedly making untrue statements in offer documents.

It was alleged that, in substance, Schofield acted as a Belgrave director.

Buckley and Smith have pleaded guilty to charges they faced and been jailed, while Schofield was granted a stay on the proceedings he faced because he was suffering from terminal cancer.

In his early 60s, Hamilton is a former Waipukurau lawyer and served as mayor of Central Hawke's Bay for six years.

He was Waipukurau Rotary Club president, Central Rugby and Sports Club chairman and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1997 Queen's Birthday Honours.

In May last year the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal ordered the former lawyer be struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors.

It followed the New Zealand Law Society bringing charges of misconduct against Hamilton.

Hamilton has not held a legal practising certificate since 2011, the same year in which he was facing bankruptcy proceedings due to an unpaid debt for the purchase of a Wellington brothel.

- Hamish Fletcher of the New Zealand Herald

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