Accountant pleads guilty to million-dollar fraud
A former chartered accountant who stole approximately $1.01 million from his clients has pleaded guilty to fraud.
Christopher George Wright (62) misappropriated refunds from his clients on whose behalf he filed tax returns and obtained refunds.
The tax refunds intended for Mr Wright’s clients were deposited in his accounting practice’s trust account, which was under his control. The Auckland man spent the refunds on gambling, friends and family, school fees and loan repayments. He defrauded about 245 clients over a six-year period from January 2010 to April 2016.
Mr Wright pleaded guilty yesterday at the Auckland District Court to one representative charge of ‘Theft by person in special relationship’ brought by the SFO.
The Director of the Serious Fraud Office Julie Read said, “Mr Wright deceived his clients over a number of years. His offending was a breach of trust that resulted in significant monetary losses. The prosecution of such matters is an important aspect of protecting New Zealand’s reputation as a safe place to invest and do business.”
The defendant has been remanded on bail to reappear for sentencing at the Auckland District Court on 6 May.
For further media information
Serious Fraud Office
027 705 4550
Note to editors
Following a complaint made to New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA), Christopher Wright’s membership of the institute was suspended on 26 April 2016.
The Professional Conduct Committee subsequently filed charges alleging ‘professional misconduct’ and ‘negligence or incompetence’ that where heard by NZICA’s disciplinary tribunal in December 2016. Mr Wright pleaded ‘guilty by correspondence’ to those charges brought before the disciplinary tribunal.
The disciplinary tribunal removed Mr Wright’s name from the register of NZICA members and imposed costs of $56,853.
Crimes Act offences
220 Theft by person in special relationship
(1) This section applies to any person who has received or is in possession of, or has control over, any property on terms or in circumstances that the person knows require the person—
(a) to account to any other person for the property, or for any proceeds arising from the property; or
(b) to deal with the property, or any proceeds arising from the property, in accordance with the requirements of any other person.
(2) Every one to whom subsection (1) applies commits theft who intentionally fails to account to the other person as so required or intentionally deals with the property, or any proceeds of the property, otherwise than in accordance with those requirements.
(3) This section applies whether or not the person was required to deliver over the identical property received or in the person’s possession or control.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is a question of law whether the circumstances required any person to account or to act in accordance with any requirements.
About the SFO
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was established in 1990 under the Serious Fraud Office Act.
The SFO is the lead law enforcement agency for investigating and prosecuting serious or complex financial crime, including bribery and corruption.
The presence of an agency dedicated to white collar crime is integral to New Zealand’s reputation for transparency, integrity, fair-mindedness and low levels of corruption.
This work contributes to a productive and prosperous New Zealand and the SFO’s collaborative efforts with international partners also reduce the serious harm that corrupt business practices do to the global economy.
The SFO has two operational teams: the Evaluation and Intelligence team and the Investigations team.
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 2018 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
The SFO Twitter feed is @SFO_NZ