Scene prod prompts probe

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An Aucklander jailed in New Zealand’s biggest corruption case used to audit Queenstown council’s contractor appointments and tenders.

City Hall’s now taking legal advice on “the level of risk” of employing Murray Noone – but only after a prod from Mountain Scene

In February, Noone, a former Auckland Transport senior manager, was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty in December of bribery and corruption charges.

The gifts-for-contracts scandal, investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, involved roading contractor Projenz handing out bribes such as international travel and accommodation, paying for gizmos like tablets and mobile phones, and putting on lunches and dinners at flash restaurants.

In the High Court, the Crown called it a “culture of corruption and excess”.

According to court judgments, Noone provided “probity reports” for Queenstown’s council “road contracting business”.

Queenstown’s council confirms Noone, through his company MJ Noone and Partners Ltd, was part of a panel evaluating contractor appointments and tenders from 2006 to 2008.

Scene asked council boss Mike Theelen a series of questions – but he kicked the response to spin doctor Michele Poole.

She says in an emailed statement based on the nature of his involvement and the time passed “we will take legal advice on the level of risk, and expect to report to the next Audit, Finance and Risk Committee meeting in June.”

Poole confirms City Hall hadn’t checked Noone’s work prior to this newspaper’s questions.

That’s despite the scandal first surfacing in September 2013 and a high-profile High Court trial stretching over several months late last year.

Queenstown’s council has not said how much Noone was paid.

The council boss who employed Noone was Mark Kunath, who now works for tourism company Real Journeys.

Kunath confirms to Scene Noone was – ironically – a probity auditor for roading tenders.

But the Aucklander never had the power to appoint contractors, Kunath assures.

Noone’s corrupt ways were “surprising and really shocking”, Kunath says, but the news didn’t sound alarm bells for him.

“We’ve got a record of all the time he was there [doing Queenstown work], and he charged us for the time that he was there.

“And he certainly didn’t charge us for any time he wasn’t there.”

One of the Crown’s star witnesses in the case against Noone and Projenz managing director Stephen Borlase – the latter of whom was jailed for five-and-a-half years – was former Projenz South Island boss Callum Wood.

Wood told the court he had no clue about Noone’s supposed South Island work, which was used to justify large invoices paid by Projenz’s head office.

Wood, now a director of Christchurch firm Strata Group, says he rejoiced in the karma of his “arrogant” ex-bosses going down.

But he says Queenstown’s council should have no problems with Noone’s auditing work.

“The people I know there were completely professional in how they awarded any work and mindful of normal processes to follow.”

david@scene.co.nz