Politics

Business of former MP Marama Fox owes over $70k

A Rotorua woman has been left with $40,000 of debt, and no answers, after Marama Fox's business folds

A self-employed Rotorua travel agent has been left nearly $40,000 out of pocket after the business of former MP Marama Fox went into liquidation.

Rotorua travel broker Amy Turuta is owed $39,165.57 by Marama Fox's Consultancy Group Tapui, which was placed in liquidation by court order earlier last week.

Turuta said Fox’s business had not paid a cent of what was owed, and Fox had not responded to any calls, texts, or emails since May. But on Friday, Fox told Newsroom she was "devastated" at the current situation.

Fox's business also owes more than $30,000 to a Masterton IT firm, and it is understood the landlord of the Masterton premises it operated out of is also owed money.

Turuta is an independent contractor for NZ Travel Brokers and is personally liable for the debt.

The mother of three said that at this stage she was waiting to see whether there was any chance of recovering any of what she was owed.

“I think it would actually ruin me to be honest,” she said.

Fox, the former co-leader of the Māori Party, set up her business after her party was ousted from Parliament in last year's election.

She was travelling the country in an effort to get investors for a proposed venture to build environmentally friendly, affordable homes.

Independent contractor Amy Turuta says she is personally liable for the nearly $40,000 owed by Fox's business. Photo: Supplied

Turuta said she started booking flights, accommodation, and rental vehicles for Fox in February – on the eve of Waitangi Day.

Fox would ring up late at night, asking to change bookings for the following day.

“It was a nightmare right from the start,” Turuta said.

The former MP was also charging thousands of dollars in food and beverage to her hotel rooms, she says.

“She was having ‘business meetings’, in other words schmoozing her potential investors, and charging it back to us.

“Full chargeback was part of the agreement but charges that high is pretty excessive,” Turuta said.

Fox was set up as one of Turuta's corporate clients with a credit limit, and was supposed to make monthly payments.

However, Turuta said Fox never paid for any of the travel she booked for herself, or the travel she booked under her account for others, including Māori activist Tame Iti.

After the debt rose to $15,000 Turuta said she became concerned and spoke to the directors of NZ Travel Brokers.

At this point, Fox said she was in the process of doing due diligence with investors and payment would not be far away, but nothing happened. And she stopped responding to Turuta's messages.

After Fox was voted off the reality television show Dancing with the Stars, Turuta said she sent further messages, but with no response.

On August 20, Turuta saw the former MP on TV3’s the AM Show and sent her another message:

“Mōrena Marama, I have just watched you on the AM Show where you made some fantastic points showing that you obviously care about people! Surely you also care that your debt could ruin the business that I have worked my arse off to grow.

“Please look at the bigger picture for me and my family just like you do for the greater Māori/New Zealand population.” 

Again, Turuta received no response.

If she was unable to recover the debt, Turuta said either she or her husband – who is also self-employed - would have to return to salaried work.

It would also mean giving up the flexibility that enabled them to get their children to sport practices during the week.

“We’re still living in hope,” she said.

Not the only one

Fox’s business was placed into liquidation on August 28, following proceedings at the High Court in Wellington, brought by Masterton IT company Ohnyx IT Solutions.

Ohnyx Solutions director Jono Oh said Fox’s company owed them $33,596.22, the design of technical infrastructure, hardware procurement and setup (laptops, modems, networking gear, wifi), implementation of the networking infrastructure and configuration of services (email, document storage, device security monitoring etc).

The debt reflected all the work the IT company had done for Fox’s business since November 2017. Oh said his company “never saw a cent out of them”.

Oh said he had emailed and called Fox a number of times with no response.

He then brought in debt collection agency Baycorp, which also failed to recover the money from Fox’s business.

Like Turuta, he was hopeful.

“But have resigned to the likelihood that if we do get something, it likely won't be everything or much,” he said.

Oh said it was a significant amount of money for a small company to lose and had caused some financial hurdles. But the business continued to function, and the experience had led to improving internal company processes.

Court-appointed liquidator Grant Reynolds said he did not know how much Fox’s business owed, or how many creditors were out there, but he was aware of money owed to Turuta, Ohnyx, and a landlord in Masterton.

Reynolds said he had been in contact with Fox and was due to meet with her early next week to establish a list of creditors.

He said he expected the liquidation to be a slow process, taking at least six months, and possibly years.

'Devastated it has come to this'

"Of course I'm devastated that it has come to this and I apologise unreservedly," Fox said in a brief statement sent to Newsroom.

"I am fully cooperating with the liquidator whilst going through this process. He will present his report in 30 days."

The former Māori Party co-leader and mother of nine (grandmother of seven) entered Parliament in 2014.

She left Parliament after last year’s election, when her party received just 1.1 percent of the vote and won no electorate seats.

Following the election, she talked about her business plans to build environmentally friendly, sustainable, prefab-style homes to help tackle homelessness.

Earlier this year she appeared on reality television show Dancing with the Stars, and in a magazine interview revealed she had split with her husband of 29 years.

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