Pair found guilty in corruption case

A Queenstown link to a high-profile corruption case might have helped convince a judge to convict two Aucklanders.

Earlier this month, former council senior boss Murray Noone and consulting engineer Stephen Borlase were found guilty in the High Court at Auckland of a range of corruption-related charges relating to multimillion-dollar road contracts.

Justice Sally Fitzgerald found former Auckland Transport manager Noone guilty of six charges of receiving $1.2million in bribes - mostly under what the Crown called a ''sham'' consultancy arrangement - from Borlase over seven years from 2006.

Borlase, the director and shareholder of consulting company Projenz, was found guilty on eight charges of offering bribes to Noone and other council staff.

Projenz handed out benefits such as international travel and accommodation, paying for items such as tablets and mobile phones, and putting on lunches and dinners at flash restaurants.

The Crown called this a ''culture of corruption of excess''.

Noone maintained the arrangements were genuine. Borlase said Noone provided ''substantial and valuable advice'' and shouting trips and hospitality was consistent with industry standards.

Justice Fitzgerald's decision, released publicly last week, said the nature of the payments to Noone and their ''sheer scale'' meant they were an attempt to influence him.

Thirty-seven witnesses - including Projenz' South Island boss Callum Wood - gave evidence at the seven-week trial in the High Court at Auckland.

Despite the fact a large number of Noone's Projenz invoices referred to advice on its South Island business, Mr Wood said Noone was not involved in the set-up of its offices in Queenstown, Christchurch or Dunedin.

Mr Wood - who, in 2006, was seconded to Queenstown's council for three days a week - also dismissed the idea that Noone was providing strategic or marketing advice.

''I did all that.''

Asked if it was possible Noone was providing advice of which he was not aware, Mr Wood responded: ''It would be highly unusual.''

In her judgement, Justice Fitzgerald said: ''My firm conclusion from listening to and seeing Mr Wood give evidence is that he was not aware of Mr Noone giving strategic and business development advice in relation to the South Island.''

The idea that Noone provided advice to Projenz's Auckland directors that was not discussed with Mr Wood ''defies common sense'', the judge said.

''It seems highly unusual to seek, and pay for, substantial advice in relation to the strategy for Projenz' business in the South Island but not to discuss it with the third Projenz South Island director who is actually located and working in the South Island.''

Mr Wood left Projenz in 2012 and now works for consulting engineer Strata Group in Christchurch.

There was no suggestion of any wrongdoing in Noone's work for the Queenstown council, which started in 2005.

In 2008 Noone told his Rodney council bosses about his Queenstown sideline.

But he did not disclose, nor did his CV reveal, his much higher-paying consultancy for Projenz - a large Rodney council contractor.

The Crown said the fact his Projenz work was not disclosed was a sign Noone knew he was doing something wrong.

Other witnesses called it a clear conflict of interest.

Between 2006 and 2008, while working full-time at the Rodney council, Noone raked in $263,000 from his Projenz consultancy and $221,000 from various other contracts, including with Queenstown's's council.

In 2007, Noone's annual council package was $175,700.

In the three years before the Auckland super city was created, Projenz earned $17.7million from Rodney District Council. The company's annual net profits over that time soared from $916,206 to $2.6million.

In summing up, Noone's lawyer, Simon Lance, said in hindsight Noone should have disclosed the Projenz work to his employer.

Borlase and Noone have been remanded on bail and will be sentenced in February.



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