An Australia-based adviser for a Taranaki iwi wasted millions of dollars he tricked staff into transferring to his accounts, blowing it up on cryptocurrency investments and personal expenses.

When the ruse was discovered, he offered to repay the iwi by working at a reduced rate.

Te Whitinga Mark Huirua pleaded guilty in the Whanganui High Court on Thursday to various charges related to his involvement with Taranaki iwi Ngā Rauru Kītahi.

Huirua, 58, had previously pleaded not guilty and was due to stand trial in 2022, but changed his pleas after some charges were changed and others dismissed.

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Ngā Rauru Kītahi is well known for some of his investments.

Its Kaitahi As One smoothie products, made with native superfoods including kawakawa and puha, among other fruits and berries, in its instant smoothies, are stocked in dozens of stores and supermarkets across the country.

But Huirua’s fraudulent activity ended with $3.1 million in iwi money down the drain.

According to court documents provided to ThingNgā Rauru Kītahi signed a settlement deed with the Crown in November 2003 which, among other things, came with a financial award of $31 million.

The iwi established a trust, Te Kāhui o Rauru​, in 2005 for charitable purposes.

The trust had an audit and risk committee which ensured the annual preparation of the financial statements.

The trust hired Huirua in 2016, appointing him as a director on the board of Te Pataka o Rauru – the iwi’s investment company.

He was living in Australia at the time and had banking and investment experience through a role at National Australia Bank.

For many years the company has pursued a largely conservative investment strategy, with most non-bank funds being held by the Public Trust.

But the company began to diversify under Huirua’s guidance into more direct investments.

This necessitated a revision of a statement of investment policy and objectives given by representatives of the 12 iwi marae.

Huirua was heavily involved in drafting the policy, which was renamed the Investment Governance Policy.

The new policy authorized the defendant to actively manage direct investments worth up to $26 million on behalf of the trust.

He set up two companies, Society One NZ Ltd​ and Imdabradaz Capital Ltd​, along with associated bank accounts to manage these direct investments, and was the sole director and shareholder of each.

The companies have been used to transfer funds from the trust to Australian bank accounts to enable direct investments in foreign currencies, cryptocurrencies and commodities.

Society One NZ Ltd closely resembles the name of the large Australian financial institution Society One, which has an annual turnover of over $1 billion.

Te Whitinga Mark Huirua blew $3.1 million of Ngā Rauru Kītahi's money on various things including cryptocurrency.

Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Te Whitinga Mark Huirua blew $3.1 million of Ngā Rauru Kītahi’s money on various things including cryptocurrency.

Huirua deliberately chose this name to avoid suspicion from trust staff who transferred funds at his request to Society One NZ, with staff believing the money was going to Society One.

He passed seven payments from the trust to Imdabradaz Capital totaling $975,000 in May 2018, which were then transferred to another account in the name of ICAP Trading Pty Ltd.

The money was then transferred to accounts in the names of various brokers and funds, as well as to Huirua’s personal account.

He repeated the ruse multiple times, securing hundreds of thousands of dollars between May 2018 and May 2019, with the funds flowing from the trust to his company accounts before being moved to various other locations.

A location was an account used for brokerage and trading cryptocurrency.

A total of $3.1 million in iwi funds was lost to Huirua.

He used $500,000 for personal expenses and lost $2.6 million in trades, but never informed the trust of the losses.

During this time, he had a job at National Australia Bank, which he lost in March 2019.

Problems arose with the audit in July 2019, which Huirua tried to brush off saying the investment reports had been delayed due to school holidays.

He then created fraudulent investor letters, claiming to be on behalf of various people working in finance but actually him, which he emailed to the trust.

Concerns continued to grow, with an urgent meeting held in September 2019 on the trust’s investments.

Huirua continued to try to cover his tracks, creating fake email identities which he used to send fraudulent letters falsely confirming investment payments.

The trick was in place for Huirua when, during a hui held in November 2019, he was asked why the payments were going to his personal bank accounts.

He said he was investing on behalf of the iwi, which he thought he had the power to do.

He implemented “trading strategies” that had a series of bad luck, resulting in losses of $3.1 million, he said.

He also invested in various cryptocurrencies, but had nothing to show for it.

He was fired from the bank for breaking rules on opening and operating trading accounts, but was willing to work for iwi at reduced wages to pay off the debt.

He stepped down from his iwi-appointed roles shortly after hui.

Defense attorney Jamie Waugh requested that a pre-sentence report include an assessment of where Huirua, who is out on bail until sentencing in April, could serve time under electronic monitoring.