Auckland’s Former Heart of the City Boss Alex Swney pleads guilty to SFO fraud charge

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Alex Swney.

MIL OSI – Source: New Zealand Serious Fraud Office – Alex Swney pleads guilty to SFO fraud charge

Alex Swney.
Alex Swney.
Alex Swney, former Chief Executive of Heart of the City, has appeared in the Auckland District Court to answer a charge brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of dishonestly using documents to obtain $2.5 million.

Mr Swney has pleaded guilty to the charge.

Mr Swney admitted that while at Heart of the City he created fictitious invoices which when submitted, resulted in payments into accounts controlled by him.

SFO Director, Julie Read said, “Mr Swney dishonestly obtained funds to which he knew he was not entitled. The misappropriation of funding intended to benefit Auckland businesses increased the cost of the services provided by Heart of the City and reduced the benefits delivered by what has otherwise been a very successful venture. Fraud of this size by employees who are entrusted with the management and expenditure of substantial sums of money is very costly for both the businesses concerned and more broadly for the community as it harms the integrity of these organisations. In bringing this prosecution the SFO is helping to protect the reputation of New Zealand as safe place in which to do business and invest.”

Mr Swney has been remanded on bail and his next appearance is scheduled for 30 April.

Note:

Background to investigation

Heart of the City Incorporated, an entity funded by property owners and commercial tenants, was established by Mr Swney in 1995. Mr Swney held the position of Chief Executive Officer reporting to the Board until October 2014 when his contract was terminated.

Crimes Act offences

Section 228 Dishonestly taking or using document
Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who, with intent to obtain any property, service, pecuniary advantage, or valuable consideration,-
(a) dishonestly and without claim of right, takes or obtains any document; or
(b) dishonestly and without claim of right, uses or attempts to use any document.

About the SFO

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was established in 1990 under the Serious Fraud Office Act in response to the collapse of financial markets in New Zealand at that time.

The SFO’s role is the detection, investigation and prosecution of serious or complex financial crime. The SFO’s focus is on investigating and prosecuting criminal cases that will have a real effect on:
• business and investor confidence in our financial markets and economy
• public confidence in our justice system and public service
• New Zealand’s international business reputation.

The SFO operates three operational teams; the Evaluation and Intelligence team along with two investigative teams.

The SFO operates under two sets of investigative powers.

Part 1 of the SFO Act provides that it may act where the Director “has reason to suspect that an investigation into the affairs of any person may disclose serious or complex fraud.”

Part 2 of the SFO Act provides the SFO with more extensive powers where: “…the Director has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed…”

In considering whether a matter involves serious or complex fraud, the Director may, among other things, have regard to:
• the suspected nature and consequences of the fraud and/or;
• the suspected scale of the fraud and/or;
• the legal, factual and evidential complexity of the matter and/or;
• any relevant public interest considerations.

The SFO’s Annual Report 2014 sets out its achievements for the past year, while the Statement of Intent 2014-2018 sets out the SFO’s strategic goals and performance standards. Both are available online at www.sfo.govt.nz

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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