Augustine Lau sentenced for damaging pōhutukawa and totara trees; Judge says that to describe his attitude as poor would be an understatement

Augustine Lau sentenced for damaging pōhutukawa and totara trees; Judge says that to describe his attitude as poor would be an understatement

Notorious property developer, Augustine Lau, has been sent to jail for damaging six protected pōhutukawa trees and one totara blocking the view at a property in Waiwera.

Earlier this week he was sentenced at the Auckland District Court to two and a half months’ imprisonment, having pleaded guilty to a charge of using land in contravention of regional and district rules under the Resource Management Act.

At sentencing, Judge Kellar said it was “hard to imagine a more deliberate case”.

He said Lau’s purpose was financial gain, as the views resulting from removing trees would have significantly enhanced the value of the property.

He also said: “To describe the attitude of the offender as poor would be an understatement.”

Lau was said to have shown “little respect to council officers” and “flagrant disregard” for the consenting process.

Four of the affected trees are expected to die, while three are seriously damaged. The trees were all large, with some found to be over 100 years old.

Lau no stranger to the courts.

Lau and his overseas associates have collectively been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Environment Court for illegally modifying Auckland properties to cram more tenants on to them.

Interest.co.nz is aware of 10 properties Lau has managed and developed on behalf of overseas owners.

A number of the properties have effectively been turned into slums, with a non-compliant sewerage system in one instance leaking raw sewage into a stream nearby.

Lau has made headlines on interest.co.nz in recent months, as many of his overseas associates have been defaulting on their mortgages.

Lau in November told interest.co.nz that his oversees business partners were so upset with the way things had turned out, that they had hired private investigators to investigate both him and Council staff.

Auckland Council confirmed this to be true.

Auckland Council at the end of its tether

Auckland Council’s Manager Regulatory Compliance, Steve Pearce, said it was “relatively uncommon” for a matter involving native tree felling of this magnitude to end up in court, “and even rarer for us to seek a sentence of imprisonment”.

Yet he said the deliberateness of Lau’s offending and the significance of the effects, “left us with no option”.

“Auckland Council staff did everything they could to make Mr Lau aware of his responsibilities, including that he needed to stop with his plans of felling the native trees at the site,” Pearce said.

“We visited the site a number of times to inspect the works being managed by Mr Lau. However, he persisted and, as a result, we issued an abatement notice requiring him to stop these works in October 2013.

“In June 2014, on Mr Lau’s instructions, a contractor broke the trunks of three of the pōhutukawa trees and one totara tree, and broke a number of large branches off three further pōhutukawa trees...

“Following a complaint from a member of the public while the works were occurring, staff visited the site to investigate. They found Mr Lau supervising the contractor in an attempt to knock down one of the pōhutukawa trees that branches had been broken from. The contractor was told to stop with the work immediately.

“Mr Lau said the trees were being felled because they had been damaged by a recent storm and were unsafe, however we observed that the storm damage to the trees was confined to some small limbs and did not present any immediate risk to people or property.

“We take a graduated approach to enforcement and will help people to comply where we can, either by giving advice and warnings first or giving them the opportunity to apply for any consents and permits that might be necessary.

“However, if offences cause significant effects, or the offenders continue to ignore their requirements, we will also take enforcement action, including through the courts if necessary.”

For more on Augustine Lau, see these stories.  

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23
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If he is not a resident why isn't he deported and if he is a resident why on earth was it granted!

21
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If he is not NZ born, why can't we cancel his residency?

14
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Agreed, he's had his chance several times over. Perhaps immigration minister can arrange for his prison release bus to drop him at the international departures area of Auckland Airport with a one way ticket. Apparently there are several overseas individual that would volunteer to meet him at the other end of his flight.

Even if he is a resident of New Zealand, he CAN be deported and even blacklisted from ever returning.

Enjoy....jail

And a well-known actor gets home detention for sexually abusing students. Depending on your POV, this is interesting.

It is insane that you can get jail for cutting down a tree, and home detention for kiddy fiddling.

15
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No, it is not insane that you can get jail for deliberately and repeatedly ignoring the laws of NZ in order to make a buck. It would be insane if you couldn't be imprisoned for such things.

As for the other matter, kiddy fiddling? As i understand it the youngest was 18 at the time. Hardly a child. I think the sentence is too light, but thats just my opinion and I wasn't there to hear both sides of the story.

14
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Agree it seems unjust that the actor wasn't jailed.

Re Lau, doesn't seem like it's just "cutting down a tree". Seems like systematic and deliberate contravening of laws for profit - in which case jail seems like a fair wake-up call.

I'd bet a few NZ pesos that Lau thought he could pull a swifty like this one on Waiheke, where a little bit of illegal action that achieves what otherwise would not have been allowed enables one to create a massive increase in value, and only pay a small fine while pretending to be contrite as punishment.

If you can get away with fines alone, it's a pretty good business model to buy properties that are cheap because of limitations such as these, then deliberately flout the law for profit. What choice do the courts have? Probably either jail time or fines proportional to the increase in value gained through the illegal acts - proceeds of crime, as it were.

Agreed Rick
The clash of cultures continues
In this individuals country of origin he would simply have paid a bribe to do as he wished
NZ has to be a lot quicker to clamp down on people who are used to #AlternativeFacts of life

If he was some first time offender he would not have got jail time. He is a serial offender and whatever he says he is determined to do what he wants. Thats a serious trigger.

So what? Augustine has had quite a few fines along the way, too - do you reckon he's paid them?

In excess of $200,000 in fines

Rather than prison, the land should have had a caveat placed on it which limits the construction of housing below that which applies to all other properties in that zoning. ie It loses value now and in the future.

You would have to assume that the person who owns it actually cares about the law and caveats. Augustine does not care he is breaking the law, he does not care about fines he likely will not pay. He will see how far he can push the boundaries into illegal property actions. The communities at risk are probably lucky non of his properties had asbestos so far.

Probability is Augustine Lau will self-export or self-deport himself after serving his jail time. He will never be able to get a legitimate job, no-one will employ him, banks wont touch him, building supply companies will hardly deal with him, and any service person or tradie who does work on anything other than a cash-in-advance basis will only have themselves to blame

14
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This story both saddens & really angers me.
Some selfish, greedy idiot cut down a notable native tree near where I work in Northcote Point, Auckland last week. It was a beautiful Puriri tree, over 100 years old & much loved by all the neighbours. The (Kiwi) guy who did it is flicking the house for a quick buck. 'Modernising' the property. The tree felling company clearly didn't bother to check with the council either. I have & I will be making an official complaint. People shouldn't be allowed to get away with it & chances are they'll try & do it again.

There are two sides to the protected trees story.
I purchased and still own 200 plus acres of bush that had no protective covenants. When I purchased I could legally clear fell and plant pine trees or create farmland.
Council invited me to covenant the bush and have reduced rate charges. I declined the offer. Council then rezoned the land as a notable landscape which meant I was no longer allowed to cut down a tree over 3m tall without first gaining a resource consent.
So my land rights were taken from me with no compensation.
When people have a 100 yr old Puriri tree blocking there view who gets to decide and at what point does that tree become protected? No trees were protected 40yrs ago.
My attitude is conservation but I reject having my land rights taken from me without compensation. I believe that if the people of NZ want to take away my land rights they should purchase them from me. There are thousands of rural land owners who have had there land rights taken from them but we are a minority group with no vote power.

"When people have a 100 yr old Puriri tree blocking there view who gets to decide and at what point does that tree become protected?" About sums the bloody human race up, doesn't it? Someone's view might be considered to be more important than the land itself.
"No trees were protected 40yrs ago". Just as well we woke up, isn't it?
I think it's past time that we stopped thinking of ourselves as owning the planet and start thinking that we are just the current guardians, we've made a big enough hash of it as it is.
Of course, I do not think, where land goes, that anyone has absolute rights over land because they hold some sort of constructed title in the form of a bit of paper over it.

Do you own property Pocket Aces? perhaps a nice house in town somewhere? How would it be if the council decided to rezone your garden as a camping zone for homeless people and offered you no compensation? It is the same principle.
The council took away my landrights to make sure the bush is preserved but they don't take any responsibility for killing the possums and rats that infest the bush and modify the ecosystem. DOC can't look after what they have got and yet feel they can tell me what I can do on mine.

No it isn't the same, we don't need freedom campers, we do need trees

I love how dogooders have such generosity at someone else's expense.
Going back to the post on the removal of the Puriri tree if the tree was covenanted and the land then purchased by the offender with full knowledge of the trees protection then I agree that his fine should be more than the perceived added value to the property.
But if the property owner had the protection imposed on him by dogooder neighbors and the council then I say good luck to him.
Doogooders instead of inflicting their save the world passion on other people should get involved and help 'forest and bird' or DOC rehabilitate land. Both organisations are always looking for volunteers to plant trees, weed reserves and protect wildlife.

Not exactly sure why anyone would not want to save the planet. It is a crying shame for us to think that what we can see out of a window is more important than the trees is what I was using as the analogy as to how we regard the wider environment. We think our interest outweighs the interests of all other life forms on the earth.

Have the homeless been reclassified as freedom campers? If so, that's a novel solution to reporting numbers.

If you are a citizen we are stuck with you. Otherwise if you have had jail time you should be delivered to the international airport in cuffs immediately after. I would not mind even if us taxpayers bought the one way ticket.

FYI, Citizens CAN lose their NZ citizenship although it is not all common. You don't lose your citizenship for being convicted of any crimes, however heinous they may be. Citizenship CAN be revoked if it can be shown that misrepresentations were made during the immigration application process or there was fraud involved. Lau hardly strikes one as being honest or of good character and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that his immigration application contained misrepresentations or fraud. There are two issues though. First, was he actually born overseas? The second is convincing someone in Immigration's investigation unit to dig up his various visa applications and go through them with a fine tooth comb looking for any instances of fraud or misrepresentation. And even if some inconsistency was found, the process is long and convoluted.....

Immigration's investigation unit specialises in checking for full stops not actual fraud. For my family they queried if the police clearance by Scottish police covered England - not a bad question but after phoning Scotland I discovered the same question had been asked before and letters sent to NZ Immigration a year before and they asked if my wife's sole custody of her child issued by her countries supreme court was applicable since it wasn't issued by a 'family' court which of course does not exist in her country. These delaying queries were made after the obligatory 6month wait for the application to be assigned to an immigration officer. Meanwhile at much the same time an immigrant was sadly killed by a lion which therefore was news and it came out that he was from a different country and 8 years older. Clearly the immigration dept should be asking more questions in the country of origin - actually checking a few references in person - it would cost more but be worth it to help keep the criminals out. Meanwhile the long delays are persuading the most qualified to choose other countries - NZ is full of Indian immigrants many working in Aucklands petrol stations but it is the USA that gets their brightest PhDs not NZ.

From published information he is 37 years old. Is Malaysian. Came to NZ as a 17 year-old international student. Attended Auckland University. (No record of his university accomplishments). And stayed here. According to court records in a dust-up he had with Donna Chisholm in 2012 he was in "business" as an Amway salesman

Lau sues Donna Chisholm and Metro for defamation over this article
http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/83191522/cuckoo-nest

Defamation Case in High Court 2013
http://www.defamationupdate.co.nz/sites/all/pdf/2013/LauvACPMedia2013NZH...

International student pathways into NZ officially identified as leading to low value immigration
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11984104

Breaking news from the Department of Duh. Nothing good in allowing our immigration to be run by organised crime syndicates in India.

Sooner that rort's closed down the better. It's bad for New Zealand in every way, and victimises the students too.

India already has a fake education diploma mill problem beyond belief, no need for us to try and match it.

I love it. The Department of Duh. Made me laugh anyway. Wonderful stuff, thank you.

No clue where it comes from, but doubt that I could claim it as original.