Accountant jailed for defrauding clients of $1 million

Published

A former chartered accountant has been sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment for stealing approximately $1.01 million from his clients.

Christopher George Wright (64) misappropriated refunds from his clients on whose behalf he filed tax returns and received refunds.

The tax refunds intended for Mr Wright’s clients were deposited in his accounting practice’s trust account. 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 was sentenced today at the Auckland District Court. He had pleaded guilty previously to one representative charge of ‘Theft by person in special relationship’ brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

The Director of the SFO, Julie Read, said, “The sentence reflects the seriousness of offending which was premeditated, repetitive and long running. Mr Wright breached his professional duties and deceived his clients for personal gain of more than $1 million. His offending was a significant breach of trust and he will now suffer the consequences of his actions. The prosecution of such matters is an important aspect of protecting New Zealand’s reputation as a safe place to invest and do business.”

ENDS

Media contact

Henry Acland
Serious Fraud Office
027 705 4550

Note to editors

Background information

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 2019 sets out its achievements for the past year, while the Integrated Statement of Strategic Intent 2016-2020 sets out the SFO’s strategic goals and performance standards. Both are viewable online at www.sfo.govt.nz.

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