June 25, 2024

A previous building inspector from Auckland Council is confronting charges of bribery and corruption.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has recorded corruption and bribery charges against a former council building inspector and a second individual, a director of a constructing enterprise in Auckland. Both supposed culprits showed up in the Manukau District Court today.

According to an SFO press release, Nicholas Bright is embroiled in 21 counts of corruption and bribery of a public servant.

The director of the construction firm, whose name has been temporarily withheld, is faced with 23 counts of corruption and bribery of an official.

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The SFO claims that Bright accepted bribes in the form of cash and other benefits relative to his duties as a building inspector between 2018 and 2020.

Bright, who was granted bail without plea during today’s court appearance, is slated to appear in court again on May 7.

The director of the construction company pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear at a case review hearing on August 9.

SFO Director Karen Chang expressed that the investigation into allegations of corruption involving public officials, especially where public health and safety might be threatened, remained a priority for the office.

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In her statement, Chang also acknowledged the Auckland council for referring the case following their internal investigations.

Auckland Council’s Reaction

Craig Hobbs, Auckland Council’s Director of Regulatory Services, revealed that the issue initially came to light in 2020 during the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown. A staff member reportedly noticed Bright operating in an area outside his jurisdiction and flagged this to their manager.

Around the same time, another anomaly was discovered during a routine review process. Bright was subsequently suspended from all duties pending an investigation. Despite the initiation of disciplinary procedures, Bright resigned before they could be completed. All these events took place over a span of four weeks in May 2020.

Hobbs stated that Bright started his role with the Auckland Council in 2018. He had previously worked for Manukau Building Consultants, an independent firm that provided inspection services in the erstwhile Manukau City Council area. This entity was mostly incorporated into the Auckland Council’s Building Consents team in 2018. Bright resigned from the council at the end of May 2020.

While he refused to comment on the details of the ongoing case, Hobbs emphasized on the gravity with which Auckland Council regards such situations. “Engaging in illegal activities and undermining our systems in the alleged manner is not just against the law but also a breach of our trust. It’s deeply disheartening for everyone in the building consents department who are committed to upholding building standards for Auckland residents.”

When the issue was recognized, Auckland Council commenced an internal investigation, including a thorough review of all work done by Bright, and forwarded the case to the police.

The council, claims Hobbs, is currently unaware of any properties being affected by the case. “All work that is related to these charges has been examined. We entrusted an independent senior inspector outside of Auckland Council to conduct the review of his work,” he added.

Council’s History with Bribery Cases

In 2017, Stephen Borlase, the head of roading contracting firm Projenz, was imprisoned after New Zealand’s largest ever bribery prosecution came to light.

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An inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office revealed that Borlase had bribed officials from the Rodney District Council and the Auckland Transport, including Murray Noone and Barrie George.

Borlase’s unlawful activities involved a series of pay-offs to Noone – adding up to more than $1 million – for awarding contracts worth tens of million dollars to Projenz between 2005 and 2013.

In addition, George reportedly received gifts and travel packages worth $103,580 from Borlase.

According to testimony heard during Borlase and Noone’s trial, Projenz had a history of extravagant expenditure on Auckland Transport employees – including high quality spirits and wines, travel, and a lavish lunch worth $5500 at Euro, a prominent restaurant at Viaduct.

Stephen Borlase (left) and Murray Noone were jailed in 2017 in the country's largest bribery case. Photo / Greg Bowker

Borlase reportedly paid Noone approximately $100,000 each year for seven years in “consulting fees,” along with several international trips and long lunches.

Thanks to the council contracts, Projenz experienced rapid growth and reported annual profits of $3.8 million the year before the crime was discovered in 2013, when Noone took a holiday and a colleague expressed concerns over several payments awaiting authorization for Borlase’s firm.

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Following a guilty verdict, Borlase, who was expelled from New Zealand’s professional body for engineers due to his illegal activities, received a prison sentence of five years and six months from Justice Sally Fitzgerald. Noone was sentenced to five years in prison.

In 2017, both Borlase and Noone’s appeals challenging their conviction and sentence were unsuccessful. They were both granted release from prison by the Parole Board in late 2018.

George had pleaded guilty in 2016 to accepting bribes from Borlase and was given a sentence of 10 months of home detention.

He testified against Borlase and Noone on behalf of the Crown. Recalling the occasion at a 2006 function where Borlase “passed an envelope down along the table to me” as a “little gift in appreciation”. It was a travel voucher worth approximately $2000. George stated that he showed it to his boss, Noone, who replied: “Yeah, pretty good, eh?”

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Two of his colleagues at the dinner advised George not to accept the gift.

“That was really the start of that cycle,” George recalled.

Sundeep Rasila and Sunil Chand, pictured in the High Court. Photo / Sam Hurley

In 2020, former Auckland Council Procurement Relationship Specialist, Sundeep Dilip Rasila, received a sentence for home detention after defrauding the local government body of nearly $30,000.

The fraud helped an old friend secure a contract worth nearly $150,000 for Chinese tech goods.

Rasila, 42, was responsible for managing relations with existing suppliers of goods and services from June 2012 to April 2016.

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Involvement in this dubious deal also implicated 56-year-old commercial printing and office stationery supply businessman, Sunil Chand, who was lured by the appeal of a $15,000 pay-off.

Chand was scheduled to be sentenced at a later date after disputing aspects of the Crown’s case and claiming to have been the whistle blower, the Herald reported in 2020.

Earlier, both had pleaded guilty to charges of bribery of an official and payment of secret commission.