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TVAL decision-making questioned in High Court


Questions about who was ultimately responsible for the decision-making at Sir Peter Jackson’s company, Vintage Aviation Ltd, dominated the second day of the trial of its former manager Eugene DeMarco on Tuesday.

DeMarco, 57, is on trial in the High Court at Wellington 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 DeMarco used the money to resolve his financial problems.

On Tuesday, the jury was played the pre-recorded testimony of TVAL’s former chief executive, James Cork.

DeMarco was already working at TVAL when Cork joined the company in 2005.

On Monday, Crown prosecutor Sally Carter had told the jury that Cork, who was based in Wellington, placed a lot of trust in DeMarco and relied on him.

“It wasn’t like I was down there [at Hood Aerodrome] every day. I would visit once a week and check in with DeMarco about how things were going, or would call him,” Cork said.

Defence counsel David Jones QC asked Cork on Tuesday about TVAL’s finances and how many planes it had sold in more than 10 years of operation.

The response was not many. Most were sold to Sir Peter’s Film Property Trust to be used as film props.

Cork said DeMarco played a managerial role but reported directly either to him or Sir Peter.

In 2015, TVAL underwent major cost-cutting measures, going from a budget of about $8 million to just $2m, with the loss of about 40 jobs.

Asked if he could make such decisions on his own without referring back to the owners, Cork said: “Certainly not for major financial decisions.”

Cork said DeMarco was owed money for parts and engines used by TVAL, dating back to 2011.

Around this time, The Film Property Trust also loaned DeMarco $607,000 to help address financial problems.

TVAL got a “good deal” when they paid just over $650,000 for a hangar at Hood Aerodrome valued at $1.2m from DeMarco’s company, OSR, Jones said.

The Crown alleges that DeMarco sold the vintage aircraft to the NZ Warbirds Association for more than they were valued at and told TVAL that the association was in agreement with the extra sum because it was a commission to help him [DeMarco] with this financial problems.

Asked if it was the most efficient way to give money, Cork said he thought “the whole thing was crazy” but that it wasn’t his place to question the arrangement.

Earlier on Tuesday, Carter resumed her examination of association president Frank Parker.

Parker reiterated that he believed he had been dealing with TVAL when he made payments to OSR.

“To the best of my knowledge, we were under the assumption that OSR and TVAL were one and the same or if not, interrelated companies of Peter Jackson,” he said.

He admitted he was concerned about where money from donors was ending up.

“As president, I was caught in a situation where we had $2m of donated funds floating around in the clouds.

“I was on the hot tin roof trying to get answers about where the $2m was.”

Sir Peter is expected to appear as a witness today.

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