Prominent businessman’s trial: ‘These three unconnected men are telling you the truth’ says prosecutor

A prominent businessman is not on trial because of his wealth but for allegedly groping people who came into his orbit due to his money and influence, a prosecutor has told a court.

The rich-lister is 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 allegations.

The businessman’s month-long trial is drawing to an end as the jury listened to the closing address of Crown prosecutor Simon Foote QC today.

He told jurors the rich-lister, who has interim name suppression, was not sitting in the dock simply because of his money.

“There is nothing wrong with becoming wealthy, but there is something wrong with indecently assaulting people which come into their orbit because of that wealth,” he said.

Foote suggested it was implausible for three unconnected complainants, all making similar allegations against one man, to have fabricated their stories.

The businessman’s legal team, the prosecutor said, has claimed the man allegedly assaulted in the early 2000s only came forward to police nearly two decades later because he wanted to “jump on the MeToo bandwagon”.

But Foote told the jury the complainant’s evidence was specific, detailed and reliable.

“The memory of the night has remained very fresh in his mind despite the passage of time.”

The businessman’s explanation was for the 2008 allegation – made some nine years later – was derived out of spite from a failed business venture. While the 2016 allegation, the businessman has claimed, was a “revenge move” and told police he was the victim of a blackmail conspiracy.

But Foote argued it was the businessman making the fanciful claims.

All three complainants, he said, were aware of the high standing and influence of the wealthy Kiwi, and felt the imbalance of power between them.

Influence over others is a part of human life but the businessman had used his power for criminal wrongdoing, Foote alleged.

“I think its pretty obvious why his wealth is relevant,” Foote said, explaining the rich-lister was feared in the industry for his ability to end or make careers.

“These three unconnected men are telling you the truth about what happened. The assaults did happen.”

Foote said the businessman knew publicity about the initial allegation of indecent assault could have ruined his businesses and philanthropic interests.

He said the two alleged attempts to pervert the course of justice by dissuading the 2016 complainant from continuing with their claims were to protect the rich-lister’s most prized asset – his reputation.

The first involved a cafe meeting between an entertainer and the complainant in April 2017 and the bribe of a $15,000 cheque in exchange for the allegations being dropped.

The businessman, however, denies having any knowledge of the effort and claims the entertainer was acting alone. But Foote said the rich-lister was the one pulling the strings.

“This isn’t some minor favour, this is a serious criminal offence, [the entertainer] must’ve had the backing of [the businessman],” Foote said.

A second attempt in May 2017, now known as the Gold Coast plot, involved a PR firm and two consultants being hired by the businessman through his manager, who is also on trial.

The rich-lister admits he engaged their services and what he thought was the help of a prominent political figure but believed it was for a legitimate and legal reason.

He explained to the court of hearing rumours of the complainant selling his story to the Australian press, resulting in a potential breach of his name suppression.

But the two consultants, who have immunity from prosecution in exchange for their evidence, told the court they were acting on instructions from the businessman, via his manager, to stop the case going to court.

Foote told the jury the lack of a contact or letter or engagement for the consultants also showed the alleged conspirators wanted to keep the deal off the books.

“A sophisticated businessman with so much on the line would never have gone about a legitimate PR management appointment in this way,” he said.

The manager faces and denies a single charge attempting to pervert the course of justice over the Gold Coast incident.

The entertainer, meanwhile, has already pleaded guilty to two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice for the Gold Coast plot and the April 2017 effort.

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

The High Court trial in Auckland continues tomorrow when the businessman’s lawyer David Jones QC is expected to deliver his closing address.

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