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‘Kickback’ claim denied

Former mayor Meng Foon has 'no memory' of pokies grant complaint.

Former Gisborne mayor Meng Foon has vehemently denied asking for “a kickback” when he was the owner of Kaiti Mall-based pokies bar Meng's Place in 2001.

Stuff has reported a complaint was made against Mr Foon in July 2001 only months before he was first elected mayor of Gisborne.

The article says Mr Foon was considered by senior investigators at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) to be unsuitable to operate pokie machines but the department did not act on the recommendations.

A draft press release describing Mr Foon as a unsuitable person to be involved in gaming activities was written but never released, and the investigation was not made public.

The Stuff article says a complaint about Mr Foon was raised with senior officials at the DIA in July 2001.

The article quotes Martin Legge, a former senior policeman and the investigator who examined the complaint.

“At the time, Foon owned Meng's Place, a pokie bar in the deprived Gisborne suburb of Kaiti,” the article states.

“Legge told Stuff it was alleged Foon had asked a community group which had applied for a poker machine grant for a kickback — an illegal payment of part of the grant — in return for helping it be approved.

“It is illegal for publicans to be involved in the decision-making around such grants. The grant application was declined, so nobody received any money as a result,” the article said.

Mr Foon, now the Race Relations Commissioner, said he had no memory of the incident until Stuff reminded him of it. He did not remember the complaint being made, or being interviewed about it in September 2001.

His memories were vague, he told Stuff.

Mr Foon told The Gisborne Herald it didn't make sense that the DIA would write a press release.

“You would think they would write to me first and take me to court.”

He had been denied a chance to defend himself in court, he said.

Mr Foon showed The Herald a letter dated April 2021 from another person involved in the Gisborne pokie industry in 2001.

That person said he had been interviewed by DIA in 2001 concerning the complaint against Meng's Place.

The DIA did not want to interview Mr Foon because he had no involvement with the pokies and did not hold the gaming licence, he said.

In the article, Stuff said when Mr Foon was asked directly if he had asked for a kickback, he replied: “Never. Never happened.”

• The full article is on the Stuff website.

Meng Foon. File picture by Rebecca Grunwell