Property developer jailed after 'gross' offending

by Edward Gay / 11 July, 2018

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Photo / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

An Auckland property developer who has cost ratepayers more than $1 million in clean-up bills has been jailed after discharging sewage near a stream and using an asbestos-contaminated landfill.

Ee Kuoh Lau, also known as Augustine Lau, is already serving a jail sentence of two months and two weeks for having native trees chopped down.

Today he had two years added to his sentence after earlier admitting 17 charges under the Resource Management Act and 10 under the Building Act.

The Environment and District Court judge, Judge Craig Thompson, described Lau's offending as the worst case when it came to ignoring warnings from the council.

According to the agreed summary of facts, Lau's offending related to six properties that he was managing across Auckland.

One property on Flatbush's Ormiston Rd originally had one house.

Without applying for resource consent, Lau turned the house into three flats. He converted the barn on the property into two more. Lau also had two old classrooms and a weatherboard house moved on to the property.

Augustine Lau. Photo / Bauer Media

All-in-all he had eight homes on the property when the council rules said he could only have one.

Four of the homes were connected to the existing sewage system. It overloaded with the increased use.

The other four dwellings were connected to a separate system that was completely inadequate. The sewage seeped out and drained onto a slope above a stream.

Council workers moved portable loos on to the property for the tenants.

At one point Lau told council workers he was trying to fix Auckland's housing shortage.

On another property, Lau had 900 cubic metres of landfill moved on to the site without getting resource consent.

Council inspectors visited the property in Otahuhu and issued stop-work notices. Instead, more fill was dumped at the site. Contractors for the council were called in to do geo-technical reports. They found asbestos present.

Lau also managed another property at Paremoremo Rd in Albany.

He converted the house into three flats. The garage was turned into another flat and a relocated house was moved on to the property. That brought the total number of dwellings to nine. Again, there were sewage leaks near a stream and he cleared 1000 square metres of bush.

Lau also managed a house in Mt Albert. It was converted into six flats. There were no provisions for fire safety. The Resource Consent only allowed for a single kitchen but following a search warrant, council inspectors found there were six kitchens. At one point, Lau told a council inspector five of the tenants shared a barbecue.

Judge Craig Thompson described Lau's offending as "gross". He said a clear message needed to be sent.

Judge Thompson said the council had issued countless abatement and infringement notices to Lau and all had been ignored.

He said Lau's offending was all for financial gain and the offending happened over years.

Judge Thompson said it was difficult to conceive of more serious offending in this area.

The Council has had to spend $1m fixing and mitigating Lau's work. There is an order for him to pay $379,000 but Lau is facing bankruptcy.

Today his lawyer Aaron Kashyap said his client's mother had a bank cheque for $100,000 that was money she inherited from the death of her husband. Family members had also made a contribution.

But Crown prosecutor Steve Symon said the money was coming at the twelfth hour and put the Court in a difficult position. Lau's bankruptcy proceedings mean his assets come under the control of the Official Assignee. The Crown needed to make sure the money was not from ill-gotten gains.

Lau is already serving a prison sentence of two months and two weeks for having native trees chopped down on a property he was managing.

Lau appealed the sentence but the Court of Appeal dismissed his bid and said if anything, a longer prison sentence could have been justified.

Lau's wife, Jiawen Mao, also faces charges but is yet to file a full report into her finances. She was to be sentenced today but Judge Thompson said he couldn't do that without knowing what kind of fine she would be able to meet.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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