The NZ Māori Council website still lists Matthew Tukaki as executive director. Photo: Screenshot

A dispute between current and past elected officials of the Māori Council has now extended to a complaint to police about use of bank accounts, reports Aaron Smale

The Māori Council has made a formal complaint to the police about tens of thousands of dollars paid out of its accounts after they were to be frozen at the conclusion of its elections.

The letter says that unauthorised payments were made from the accounts without authority after the end of NZMC elections held in May. The 11-page letter with accompanying documentation was sent to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and is signed by Professor Gary Hook and John Hooker, co-chairs of the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee of the NZ Māori Council.

The letter says: “The NZMC wishes to formally complain about $76,174.05 withdrawn from its accounts without authority. It asks the police to investigate these matters and to ensure that they are properly dealt with.”

Among those named in the complaint for emailing BNZ about the pause on the accounts is Matthew Tukaki, who was voted out of his roles on the Māori Council, which included chair of the Auckland Māori Council and national executive director.

The letter explains that the positions held on the Māori Council lapse at the end of elections and the BNZ bank accounts were requested to be frozen in late May.

It says that by the end of May “no one had the legal right to spend NZMC’s funds” until the council was reconvened and new appointments were confirmed.

The letter to police explains that: “by the end of May 2021, all NZMC office holders no longer held their positions, with new appointments due to be made in June.”

The NZMC complaint to police over money accessed from its bank accounts. Photo: Screenshot

The national meeting to make those appointments was delayed by legal action taken by Tukaki and Raewyn Harrison. They argued in the High Court there were irregularities in the elections and the results should be decided by an independent inquiry. However, the court did not uphold the claims and instructed that any challenges to the election results should go through the Council’s internal processes that were laid out in the Council’s legislation.

The national meeting went ahead and the election results were ratified. The letter to police said that: “On 25 May 2021, the Chairperson of NZMC, the Venerable Harvey Ruru wrote to the Fraud Department of the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) to pause the operation of the New Zealand Māori Council bank accounts to halt monies being removed out of the account improperly pending the appointment of new council officers and an examination of claims for payment.”

However, the incoming council found that money had gone out of the frozen accounts in June.

The letter from the Māori Council to police states: “From correspondence later provided to the NZMC by the BNZ we now know that: a/ on 4 June 2021, Karen Waterreus wrote to the BNZ seeking to have the accounts unfrozen; b/ on 4 June 2021, Matthew Tukaki also wrote to the BNZ seeking to have the accounts unfrozen; c/ at some time on or before 9 June 2021, Ewen Paynter telephoned the BNZ to assist Ms Waterreus and Mr Tukaki to have the accounts unfrozen; and, d/ on 9 June 2021, the bank emailed Ms Waterreus, Mr Tukaki, and Mr Paynter saying that they were aware of the internal issues of the NZMC and asking to be advised when these had been resolved.”

“On 29 June 2021, NZMC was told by someone that they had received a payment from the NZMC accounts, suggesting the accounts were not frozen.”

The complaint does not say who specifically authorised or made the payments or how the accounts came to be un-paused.

Newsroom sought comment from Tukaki, Paynter and Waterreus on the claims in the complaint about lobbying the BNZ to re-open access to the accounts but has not received a response.  Another person named in the complaint as having received payments while the accounts were frozen said he was unaware that the accounts were frozen at the time. He said the election process was in dispute.

The complaint to the police says there was no authority to access or pay funds from the accounts and all concerned had been advised of this.

Newsroom has previously reported that a letter was sent to Minister of Māori Development Willie Jackson on July 23 under the banner of a group calling itself Te Roopu Tautoko. The letter also claimed there were irregularities in the election and asked the minister to intervene. The letter had a list of more than 50 names at the end. The list was headed by Tukaki, but Newsroom has spoken to five people on the list who said they were unaware of the letter and did not give consent to their names being used. Other branches have written to the minister saying some of those listed have not given consent for their names to be used and they have not seen specific details of the allegations. They rejected the allegations of irregularities.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis appointed Tukaki as chairman of an advisory board to report back on reforms to Oranga Tamariki, after the agency was the subject of a number of damning reports. 

Aaron Smale is Newsroom's Māori Issues Editor. Twitter: @ikon_media

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