A wealthy Kiwi businessman has been “painted as this ogre” by prosecutors after a group of men falsely accused him of sexual assault, a top defence lawyer has told jurors.
The rich-lister is charged with indecently assaulting three men in the early 2000s, 2008 and 2016.
He is also charged with twice attempting to pervert the course of justice by trying to dissuade the 2016 complainant – the first to go to police – from giving evidence.
The businessman’s lawyer, David Jones QC, told the jury they should be left in no doubt the 2016 complainant was a liar.
His client, he argued, simply wasn’t in the bedroom at the businessman’s home at the time the young man claims he was assaulted by the rich-lister.
Jones accused the police and Crown of ignoring key evidence, including a CCTV image purporting to show his client was elsewhere when the complainant said made a phone call for help.
“When you’re blinded by the conclusion, all you’re looking for is evidence to support it,” he said of the police’s investigation.
Jones continued: “There are some people that believe that every sexual assault complainant is telling the truth. We know that can’t be correct.”
He told jurors the two other complainants had come forward later harbouring ulterior motives.
“One in 2001, one in 2008, it’s not exactly a tsunami,” Jones said.
The lawyer claimed the alleged victims wanted to be in court, despite them telling the court during the trial they’d rather not be.
“They want to bring someone down, for whatever reason,” Jones said. “They know they have suppression, it’s a matter of law, they know they can come along and throw rocks without being named.”
Addressing the allegations of attempting to pervert the course of justice, Jones told jurors the Crown was hoping to throw enough mud at his client it would stick.
The first effort involved a cafe meeting between an entertainer and the 2016 complainant in April 2017 and a $15,000 bribe in exchange for the allegations being dropped.
The businessman, who has interim name suppression, denies having any knowledge of the attempt and claims the entertainer was acting alone.
A second 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 only thing that [the businessman] was concerned about was his reputation and breach of suppression orders, that’s what he was concerned about,” Jones said.
The rich-lister told the court of circulating rumours that the 2016 complainant was about to sell his story to the Australian press, which might see the NZ suppression orders bypassed.
Jones said his client was attracted to the PR firm because of a prominent political figure’s association, whom he considered had a “great reputation”.
“[The businessman] has a reputation to protect … He is not a person who would stoop to these levels … That is a reality and that is what he has said to you.
“What he will pay for is reputational management and that’s what he did.”
Jones said his client has been “painted as this ogre, but he is the vulnerable one”.
“The only people standing between [the businessman] and injustice are you,” he told the jury.
The manager’s lawyer, Rachael Reed QC, said “the truth is stranger than fiction”.
Particularly, she added, when it comes to the two PR consultants, who were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their evidence.
Reed said they “have played their position perfectly” and offered a bigger fish to police, in the form of the businessman, to avoid the prospect of prison.
She added her client, who faces a single charge attempting to pervert the course of justice over the Gold Coast incident, was naive and had never engaged a PR firm before.
The firm’s website, which displayed the suppressed political figure and other high-profile, appeared to be the right hire, Reed said.
“Who better to approach than a PR company associated with [the political figure].”
Reed continued: “If anyone came up with this outrageous, stupid criminal plan, then it was on the Gold Coast and it was [the entertainer].”
The entertainer 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.
Earlier in the day, Crown prosecutor Simon Foote QC concluded his closing address and said the case was about a “wealthy businessman in a pickle … scared for the kingdom that he has built”.
He said the rich-lister was the person who would benefit if the alleged scheme to pervert the course of justice succeeded.
“It’s extraordinary if he didn’t know,” Foote said.
The defendants, he added, did not count on there being three recordings of conversations involving the 2016 complainant, the PR consultants and the manger, described as the “right hand man”.
“It’s a rare case, ladies and gentlemen, that you have the criminals on tape acknowledging on tape their criminality,” Foote told jurors.
What followed, he argued, were “desperate denials against the obvious realities of the evidence” by the defendants.
The trial continues on Monday morning when Justice Geoffrey Venning is due to make his summation for the jury.
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