Prominent businessman’s trial: Rich-lister takes the stand in his own defence

A rich-lister accused of indecently assaulting three people and later trying to pay off one of the complainants has decided to give evidence in his own defence.

The wealthy businessman, who has interim name suppression, is on trial accused of indecently assaulting three men in the early 2000s, 2008 and 2016.

He is also charged with twice trying to pervert the course of justice by offering a bribe for the 2016 complainant – the first of the three to go to police – to drop their claim.

The man denies the charges and has claimed he is the victim of blackmailing efforts.

He began giving evidence today in the High Court at Auckland after his lawyer, David Jones QC, declared there were “fundamental flaws” in the Crown case and police investigation into his client.

“You’ve already asked a question about a witness, who is important, who isn’t here because the Crown has elected not to call them,” Jones said during his address.

“They’re not overly interested, you might have gleaned, about digging into anything,” he said.

The jury today asked if they could be provided with the police statement of a well-known political figure who has been linked to the case. The person has interim name suppression.

Justice Geoffrey Venning, however, declined, explaining it was not part of the trial’s evidence.

One of the two alleged attempts to dissuade the 2016 complainant included a meeting at the five-star Palazzo Versace hotel on the Gold Coast in May 2017.

The Crown alleges two PR consultants were hired by the businessman through his manager, who is also on trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice, to fly to Australia and stop the witness giving evidence against him.

The PR workers have interim name suppression and were granted immunity from prosecution by the Solicitor-General in exchange for their evidence for the Crown.

Jones said the lead PR consultant, who is connected to the political figure, was “donkey deep” in the alleged plot and described him as a “piece of work”.

“He’s actually the person who’s actually fronting it,” he declared. “The sort of person the Crown has got into bed with.”

Jones said the PR worker was working towards his own strategy and “making up things as he went along” to benefit his own position.

The top Auckland lawyer said prosecutors had attempted to paint the case as a story of a rich and influential man abusing his power.

“Makes great press doesn’t it?” Jones said.

But he added while his client has accumulated enormous wealth, far more than all those in the courtroom combined, he has been generous with his money and has donated millions of dollars during his career.

Jones urged jurors to not treat him as a defendant accused of crimes but as someone with the a level of respect befitting what he has achieved and done for New Zealand.

A well-known Kiwi entertainer has already pleaded guilty to two charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice for trying to have the 2016 complainant drop their allegations, including the Gold Coast attempt and an earlier effort in April 2017.

He has name suppression and is due to be sentenced at the end of this month.

The trial continues.

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