GRAPHIC/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Fraud trial to continue this week

The man at the centre of the fraud trial relating to Sir Peter Jackson’s company, The Vintage Aviator Ltd, took to the stand on Friday to tell the court his side of the story.

Former manager Eugene DeMarco, 57, is on trial in Wellington High Court, facing two charges of obtaining by deception and four of theft by a person in a special relationship.

The charges relate to the sale of two vintage aircraft sold by TVAL with the proceeds going through DeMarco’s company, The Old Stick and Rudder.

The Crown alleges he sold two of TVAL’s planes at an inflated price, using the money to cover his own financial troubles.

Defence lawyer Marc Corlett QC argued his client had sold the two planes with a commission after coming to an agreement with TVAL’s then chief executive, James Cork.

“There is no issue in this trial that [DeMarco] understood OSR would need to pay TVAL for the planes.

“He was buying the planes from TVAL and selling them to Warbirds.

“Because of the agreement, he was allowed to keep the difference.”

Corlett said this deal was struck to help DeMarco repay the $1.1 million loan he owed Sir Peter’s Film Property Trust, and because TVAL also owed DeMarco close to $400,000 for parts used and test flights.

He went on to say that the loan from BNZ relating to one of the charges DeMarco faced, was a result of DeMarco not receiving payment.

Using a P40 Kittyhawk as security on this charge without getting permission from the company shareholder Oliver Wulff led to another.

However, Corlett questioned the legitimacy of the shareholder contract with Wulff and that, even if it stood, DeMarco should face trial in a civil, rather than criminal court, for misunderstanding its terms.

“He’s not a lawyer, he flies WWI planes,” he said of his client.

Taking the stand, DeMarco told the jury he had been flying since he was 15 years old.

“I loved flying,” he said.

“I’ve always enjoyed flying WWI aircraft because they are a bit different.

“They all have a different personality and the engineering is a bit unique.”

In addition to flying vintage airplanes, he also flew as a stunt pilot for films and commercials, for skywriting and banner flying, and to track bears.

Asked why he had used the P40 Kittyhawk instead of another vintage model, the Corsair, which he had ownership of, DeMarco said he didn’t think there’d be a problem and would have used other assets if he had thought it was an issue.

He said Wulff had never taken an owner-like interest in the plane and had only paid $500,000 for a stake in OSR which had assets estimated to be worth $3.8m.

“I thought the P40 was basically securing his investment.

“He didn’t want money or interest, he just didn’t want to lose his $500,000,” DeMarco said.

Wulff had since assumed ownership of the plane, changing its registration and moving it to another hangar.

The trial resumed yesterday and was expected to continue this week.