‘Rorting the Revenue’: Ex-accountant jailed for $9m tax fraud indicates legal fight is not over

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‘Rorting the Revenue’: Ex-accountant jailed for m tax fraud indicates legal fight is not over

Barrie Skinner’s scheme involved issuing fake invoices to reduce others’ tax liabilities and then taking a share of the money saved. File photo / NZME

A former accountant who spent years in prison for a multimillion-dollar tax fraud, while maintaining he had done nothing wrong, has indicated his legal fight will continue.

Barrie James Skinner’s criminal history came under scrutiny this week in the trial of a man who thumped him within moments of meeting him for the first time.

Skinner was jailed for 8½ years after being convicted in 2012 on 80 charges of dishonestly using a document, seven of attempting to pervert the course of justice, and five of giving false information to the Inland Revenue Department.

He was found guilty after a six-week trial in the High Court at Wellington alongside his business partner, David Ingram Rowley, who was jailed for eight years.

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Together they defrauded the Inland Revenue of $9 million. The scam involved issuing fake invoices to help businesses reduce their tax bills and taking a cut of the money saved. The pair netted $2m between them.

Skinner, who had previously worked as a tax investigator, got a longer sentence than Rowley because he had been living the high life off his takings.

He then stayed in prison nearly two years longer than Rowley, who was released in 2016, because the Parole Board was concerned that he had a “breathtaking lack of insight” into his offending.

He had maintained throughout his trial and subsequent appeal that he had done nothing wrong.

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“Mr Skinner was unrelenting in his examination of the ‘twigs and leaves’ of his scheme while seemingly oblivious he was deep in a forest of dishonest endeavour,” according to a Parole Board decision that went against him in 2015.

Skinner’s sentence end date was January 2021 but he was paroled in 2018. It appears he has not let go of his belief that he was wrongly convicted.

When he appeared as the victim in an assault trial in the Hastings District Court this week, he disclosed that he was taking his fraud case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CRCC).

The CRCC was set up in 2020 to independently review the cases of people who believe they have been subject to a miscarriage of justice.

The Hastings trial involved a man who had been charged with injuring Skinner with intent last year and assaulting Skinner’s then-partner, Kiri Harmer.

Skinner had never met the accused, Harmer’s nephew Turoirangi Harmer-Elers, before turning up at a Harmer family gathering and exchanging words with another family member over the state of a bach being renovated on the whānau’s land.

The court was told that Skinner and Kiri Harmer had put money towards the project, as had other family members.

Harmer-Elers’ mother, Jackie Harmer, felt Skinner had been disrespectful, so sent her son to tell Skinner he was not wanted on the property.

What happened next was disputed at trial. The police case, presented by prosecutor Emily Richards, alleged Harmer-Elers struck Skinner from behind and repeatedly punched and kicked him while he was on the ground.

The prosecution also said Harmer-Elers had assaulted Kiri Harmer when she tried to intervene.

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Skinner and Kiri Harmer both gave evidence describing this scenario.

But Harmer-Elers told the court he had struck Skinner only once, while they were facing each other and within moments of confronting him after Skinner did not respond to being spoken to.

“I was quite shocked that the punch was even in the air,” Harmer-Elers said.

He said he did not hit Kiri Harmer.

The reliability of Skinner’s evidence came under attack from defense counsel Leo Lafferty, who brought up Skinner’s multiple convictions for “rorting the revenue” and perverting the course of justice.

When Lafferty said “the nub of your trial related to large-scale tax fraud”, Skinner said he preferred not to answer questions about it because it was still subject to ongoing proceedings. He then mentioned the CCRC.

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When Lafferty put it to him that he was paroled only after his fifth appearance before the Parole Board, Skinner replied: “For the very reason that I didn’t agree with the ruling of the courts.”

Judge Gordon Matenga heard the assault case, gave his decision and sentenced the Harmer-Elers all within a single day.

He noted Skinner’s credibility had come under “serious attack” by Lafferty.

He said he found Kiri Harmer’s evidence credible but he could not be certain she had been assaulted when the evidence conflicted. He found Harmer-Elers not guilty of assaulting his aunt.

However, he said Harmer-Elers had admitted he assaulted and injured Skinner, whose lip had been bloodied.

Judge Matenga amended the charge from injuring with intent to assaulting with intent, and found Harmer-Elers guilty of that.

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He sentenced Harmer-Elers to 75 hours of community service.

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