Dunedin City fraud

Otago Daily Times have combined information from a police investigation file released yesterday under an Official Information Act request and Deloitte’s full report (of their investigation) that was leaked to ODT last month.

Two escape Citifleet prosecution

A police report suggests Brent Bachop’s death and a right to silence may have helped two others escape prosecution following the Dunedin City Council’s $1.5 million Citifleet fraud.

The police investigation was launched last year after Deloitte found Mr Bachop, the former Citifleet team leader, to be at the centre of the decade-long fraud.

He was found to have sold 152 council vehicles, while pocketing proceeds, and police concluded in June there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone else in relation to the fraud.

But the police investigation file, released yesterday following an Official Information Act request, questions the actions of two other parties – a Dunedin car dealer and an unnamed woman – who were not charged.

There was evidence both parties had ”potential culpability”, one for receiving stolen goods and the other for conversion of a council vehicle.

However, the death of Mr Bachop – who was not named directly in the police report – and the right to silence meant both had a defence that could not be overcome, it said.

That conclusion came despite the actions of one of the parties – a salesman at an unnamed Dunedin car dealership – being considered ”highly suspicious”, the police report said.

The ODT goes on to explain the reasoning by the Police for not prosecuting, and they name the woman and the car dealership. They didn’t name the salesman himself but I’ve seen his identity revealed online previously.

While these two individuals have escaped prosecution the burden of their exposure as highly suspect will live with them.

And Dunedin City Council has a severely stained reputation on this as well. One hundred and fifty two cars not being accounted for over ten years shows extremely lax asset management. Several senior staff have resigned since this was publicised.

Stuff also reports: Police raised possibility of others involved in Dunedin City Council Citifleet fraud.

The police investigation followed a Deloitte’s report which suggested six potential areas of criminal activities: 152 missing vehicles, credit card/fuel card spending, purchase of a motorbike, council vehicle conversion and cashing cheques for refilling parking machines.

The subsequent police investigation was to determine if anyone other than Bachop was involved in fraudulent activity, and if anyone had culpability as to the offending, or as a receiver.

Police spoke to all but three of the people who bought one of the 152 vehicles. Those three people could not be traced.

“Almost without exception the purchasers of the vehicles stated that they believed (Bachop) was entitled to sell the vehicles and had no reason to believe that he was not forwarding their money onto council,” the report noted.

So it remains unknown whether any of the car purchasers had any inkling they were getting bargains at the expense of ratepayers or not.

And the ‘negligence’ of the Council is pointed out.

The report also concluded that the council’s finance department was “negligent” in the way they maintained the fixed asset register.

“There is no evidence that anyone deliberately turned a blind eye to the errors on the register, nor is there any evidence that anyone in the finance department would have any motivation to complicit in (name withheld) offending.”

Negligence is a mild description for a finance department that did not detect that an average of fifteen significant assets per year for ten years were disappearing from their books.

And this may not be all. The Council decided to not investigate further back than ten years due to difficulties in checking through records. What records? It’s basic stuff accounting for assets.

Brent Bachop took over management of Dunedin City’s vehicle fleet from someone who was referred to as ‘Arthur Daly’.

The known level of fraud and the lack of confidence that it was the only fraud is a very bad look for Dunedin.

We can only hope that the Council now has rock solid accounting and accountability.

Ombudsman – withholding Banks’ full statement to Police “was not justified”

The Ombusdman has recommended that a reacted version of John Banks’ statement to police is given to NZ Herald and Labour – after the current court proceedings have concluded.

In relation to requests by NZ Herald (David Fisher) and Labour (Kate Challis) for a copy of the statement provided by the Hon John Banks to the Police in the course of their investigation into alleged irregularities in respect of electoral funding donations the Ombudsman has ruled:

I have formed the opinion that in September and October 2012 the Police had good reason to refuse parts of the statement under those provisions but that the decision to withhold the statement in full was not justified.

He has recommended “that the Police release a redacted statement to the requesters once the related court proceedings against Mr Banks have concluded.”

So that won’t have any immediate effect, it will have to wait until the current court proceedings are complete.

Ombudsman’s role:

As an Ombudsman, I am authorised to investigate and review, on complaint, any decision by which a Minister or agency subject to the OIA refuses to make official information available when requested. My role in undertaking an investigation is to form an independent opinion as to whether the request was properly refused.

Summary

David Fisher of The New Zealand Herald and Kate Challis of the Office of the Labour Leader requested a copy of the statement provided by the Hon John Banks to the Police in the course of their investigation into alleged irregularities in respect of electoral funding donations.

The allegations pertained to the 2010 Auckland Super City Mayoral election in which Mr Banks was a candidate for the mayoralty. The statement was withheld pursuant to sections 9(2)(a) and 9(2)(ba) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). I have formed the opinion that in September and October
2012 the Police had good reason to refuse parts of the statement under those provisions but that the decision to withhold the statement in full was not justified. 

Ombudsman’s opinion and recommendation

49. For the reasons set out above, I have formed the opinion that in September and October 2012 the Police had good reason to withhold parts of Mr Banks’ statement under sections 9(2)(a) and 9(2)(ba)(ii) of the OIA, but the decision to withhold the statement in full was not justified.

50. I recommend that the Police release a redacted statement to the requesters once the related court proceedings against Mr Banks have concluded. I have stipulated that the release be delayed because although I consider the OIA did not provide good reason to withhold the majority of the statement at the time the Police made its decision on the requests, in light of subsequent events, disclosure at the present time would be likely to prejudice Mr Banks’ right to a fair trial (section 6(c) of the OIA). Accordingly, a recommendation to disclose before the conclusion of the pending court proceedings would be c ontrary to one of the purposes of the OIA which is “to protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest …” (section 4(c) of the OIA).

Full report (PDF).