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Jailed fraudster facing forfeiture

Police allege $12.5m of assets proceeds of crime.

Matawai farmer John Bracken, jailed earlier this year for New Zealand's biggest tax fraud, will be back in court this month as the Crown applies to sell one of his assets.

A hearing has been scheduled for September 28 in the civil court at Gisborne to decide whether a quad bike can be sold from a pool of assets, worth about $12.5 million, restrained in 2018 as potential proceeds of crime.

Bracken, 55, was jailed in May, this year, for eight-and-a-half years after being found guilty of all 39 charges he faced of dishonestly using a document, GST refund claim forms, to obtain a financial advantage — $17.3 million.

Each of the charges represented a GST period between August 2014 and July 2018 and related to an exporting arm of Bracken Enterprises Limited (BEL) — not Bracken’s Matawai farming operation, which it was accepted was being run legitimately.

Among the restrained assets at risk of being ultimately forfeited to the Crown are land, properties, funds, various belongings, and vehicles.

The court gave the Crown the go-ahead in January this year for some of those items to be sold ahead of the trial, due to likely depreciation and storage costs.

A 2017 Dodge Ram utility vehicle, 2011 Holden car and 2018 Extreme 645 Game King boat, together valued at $248,000, were put up for auction.

The upcoming application to sell a quad bike will be based on similar grounds.

A hearing date to decide the fate of the more substantive remaining assets is yet to be set.

Among the pool at risk of being forfeited to the Crown is Bracken’s 1680-hectare Matawai farm, valued at about $7million, which was passed to him by his father and which he operated with his wife and their adult children.

Three residential properties, a holiday home, machinery and more than $1m discovered in various bank accounts are also at stake.

The total value of the assets, coupled with a payment of $2.5 - $3million, which Bracken made to the IRD, is believed to just about match the total debt of his fraud.

As he did at trial, Bracken has elected to represent himself in the upcoming proceedings — a decision a number of judges involved at various stages of his case have strongly advised him against doing.

At a previous hearing, Justice Robert Dobson rejected Bracken’s claims about the assets being protected by a family trust, saying Bracken was misinformed as to how family trust law worked.

Bracken has previously told the court he did not trust lawyers, cannot afford one and believes that as a member of a Maori corporation, he is not a liable individual.

The Brackens have been allowed to continue using restrained items necessary to their farming operations. They have also been allowed ordinary farming income from sales of stock, crops, and timber on the condition those sales were declared. Failure to declare them was to result in the proceeds also being subject to restraint.

* This story was updated. Earlier information supplied to the Gisborne Herald incorrectly advised September 28 as the forfeiture hearing for all assets. Scheduling of that hearing is in fact still pending.

Back in court: Convicted tax fraudster John Bracken has a civil court hearing in Gisborne on September 28 as the Crown applies to sell another of his restrained assets. Gisborne Herald file picture