A 30-year-old man is facing charges in the Manukau District Court after allegedly defrauding the trust that looks after the Waitangi Treaty Grounds of $1.2 million.
Wallace Tamamotu Te Ahuru of Kerikeri faces two charges of obtaining by deception and seven charges of using forged documents.
The charges relate to when Te Ahuru worked for a subsidiary of the Waitangi National Trust between 2012 and 2016. The Serious Fraud Office says he was responsible for the trust’s financial administration.
Te Ahuru’s social media presence boasted of a life of luxury.
He called himself Wallace the Tory online and posted pictures of a $130,000 BMW, drinking champagne, playing croquet, and dining with former Prime Minister Sir John Key.
Now, questions are being asked over whether that lavish lifestyle was funded by allegedly defrauding the trust that runs the Treaty Grounds.
Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene told 1 NEWS the situation had impacted on the trust’s bottom-line. He refused to elaborate on how the fraud occurred.
“Over a million dollars taken out of any organisation’s bottom line is going to have a serious effect and all I can say is that we’ve been a victim of fraud.”
Political commentator Tau Henare said he was aghast.
“I’m shocked. It’s our national icon, it’s our national place regardless of the politics - that’s where it all started.”
A former trust board member told 1 NEWS that Te Ahuru was a polite, credible young man, his work was good and he was always dressed impeccably. And although the board member felt that Te Ahuru saw himself as a cut above the rest of the staff there was never anything to suggest any wrongdoing.
Auckland University’s law professor Dr Bill Hodge said he believed Te Ahuru was one of the youngest the SFO has ever prosecuted.
“I’ve never seen one of this age before the Serious Fraud Office. It’s not like that they say ‘Oh, we will never prosecute a young person,’ they just never get the opportunity to do so.”
Meanwhile, Mr Henare who is from northern iwi Ngāpuhi, said questions had to be asked of the governance.
“What sort of systems do you have in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen? Should heads roll? Most probably."
Te Ahuru did not enter a plea and is due to reappear in court on September 4.