Former world heavyweight champion Joseph Parker has been fighting in court for almost two years, trying to keep his name separate from Crown allegations he’s been involved in an international drug ring. Today, after 23 months, he lost that fight. Edward Gay takes you inside the story that Joseph Parker didn’t want you to know.
The Crown believes Joseph Parker was connected to an international drug ring operating in a large-scale methamphetamine operation.
During a major 2019 trial, in which three men were found guilty of various charges relating to importing methamphetamine from California and the wholesale supply of the Class A drug in Auckland, the Crown said Parker was connected.
Parker was never charged by police. Despite police being granted a warrant to search his house, they chose not to execute it. The Crown’s evidence against Parker has never been tested in court. He has always denied the allegations.
Despite that, the Crown alleged at trial that Parker bought methamphetamine and talked to one of the convicted trio about finding a supplier. He was also identified as being a source to exchange New Zealand dollars for US currency to enable the group to buy drugs.
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A third strand of evidence that the Crown said linked Parker to the operation was later conceded by Crown lawyers not to relate to Parker.
Since April 2019, Parker has been able to keep his name secret. But no longer.
Today, the highest court in the land refused to hear his appeal. The decision from the Supreme Court means Parker’s name – and the Crown’s allegations against him – can now be made public.
It follows multiple appeals from Parker and his high-powered legal team, who have been trying to overturn the refusal of judges through progressively higher courts, to stop the boxer’s name from coming out.
Parker’s lawyers argued he could miss out on lucrative fights and the heavyweight would be subject to “trial by media.”
His sister and manager, Elizabeth Fuavao, spoke of Parker’s reputation being “damaged irreparably.”
But the media argued for open justice and the public’s right to know how the high-profile athlete – who represents New Zealand on a world stage – had been connected by the Crown to an international drug syndicate.
The media argued suppressing the prominent New Zealander’s name – because of his notoriety – could lead to an erosion in public confidence of the justice system.
Stuff also argued it was important to be able to hold the police to account for their decision not to execute a search warrant at Parker’s house, and their decision not to charge the superstar.
The police’s reasons for those decisions have still not been made clear.
The fact Parker was never charged added a layer of complexity to the case described by Justice Mathew Downs as “difficult.”
Parker’s name was repeatedly mentioned by Crown prosecutors as they set out their case against three men at the High Court in Auckland in April 2019 – Tevita Matangi Fangupo, Tevita Sitanilei Kulu and Toni Rajendra Finau.
The Crown said Parker was involved in changing New Zealand dollars into US currency for Kulu to buy drugs in California.
When investigators searched Kulu’s phone, they found an exchange between Kulu and his Californian drug supplier in which the pair negotiated prices for methamphetamine.
One of the messages also related to Parker. It can only now be reported in full.
“Alright bro..I got u tho..have all ur money..the dude I was with that’s on my snapchat is going to change it to U.S currency..they wont question him bout all the money..cause he’s the WOB boxing champion so pple know he rich anyways so he’ll be good to change it with no hassles [sic].”
The Crown also alleged Parker had been involved in buying drugs from Finau and offering to set him up with a “new contact.”
In an exchange on the social media platform Wickr, the account in the name of joeboxerparker is alleged to have told Finau: “Trust me, it’s the best stuff out.”
The Crown relied on a third strand of evidence linking Parker to the syndicate. Referred to in court as the “Sese and Joe” messages, they too related to a discussion between Kulu and his contact in California. Kulu is said to have told his wholesale dealer to arrange for Sese and Joe to exchange more currency.
However, Parker’s lawyers later pointed to evidence to show he was not in California at the time the messages were sent. He was in Doha. The Crown conceded the messages did not relate to the fighter.
Parker has always maintained his innocence.
Part-way through the legal action he filed a sworn affidavit with the court.
“I have never changed or transported money for the defendants. I have never been involved in the purchase, supply or consumption of methamphetamine.”
“A difficult case” – Justice Mathew Downs
It is not unusual for high-profile people to seek name suppression when they are a defendant in a criminal trial.
But Parker’s bid was unusual because he sought suppression of his name despite never being charged by the police.
The lawyers and judge in Parker’s case could only find two other instances where a person or entity connected to a criminal case had argued for name suppression.
Fight for name suppression went five rounds
Parker’s bid for name suppression was the subject of two High Court findings, two Court of Appeal findings and an application to seek leave of the Supreme Court to continue the legal action.
Justice Downs in the High Court had to balance Parker’s interests with the public’s right to know what happens in the country’s criminal courts.
He concluded Parker would suffer undue hardship but declined his application for name suppression.
The judge said Parker was alleged to be connected to the defendants’ offending that he described as “serious”.
“A high public interest attaches to the open reporting of criminal trials, especially for serious criminal offending,” he said.
Justice Downs also recognised the importance of the media’s ability to question the police about their decision not to charge Parker.
He ruled suppressing Parker’s name would be “more than a little artificial” as Parker had been mentioned throughout the trial, in front of a public gallery that was often packed.
“Suppression of Mr Parker’s name may, in all these circumstances, contribute to the incremental erosion of public confidence in the administration of criminal justice through disproportionate weight on immediate consequences instead of a long-term view.”
The Court of Appeal largely agreed with Justice Downs.
“There is, unquestionably, a high public interest in how methamphetamine comes into New Zealand, including how it is financed and transported and how it is distributed once it arrives. The public has an interest in knowing who is behind this offending, including those who assist or enable it to occur, even if not directly involved.”
It said restrictions on media reporting should only happen in “very special circumstances.”
“The point of conducting criminal trials in public and the principle of open justice is that the trial can be fully reported by the media acting as proxy for the public.”
The Court of Appeal also agreed the media should be able to question the police on their decision not to charge Parker.
“There is a legitimate public interest in knowing of allegations of serious conduct against a person who enjoys a high public profile and of the fact that the police have not considered that charges are warranted.”
It also agreed that granting Parker name suppression could erode the public’s faith in the Justice system.
“These are all powerful factors and ones that, in our view, could not properly be recognised without the media being able to fully report on the evidence given at trial.”
“You can’t just apply an equation,” Professor Chris Gallivan
Massey University law professor Chris Gallivan says despite the record suggesting only two other cases where suppression has been sought without charge, connected people are often granted name suppression because they have little or no opportunity to defend themselves.
Gallivan was involved in a recent television documentary on high-profile lawyer Greg King, who died in 2012.
King defended Ewen Macdonald, who was charged with the murder of Scott Guy.
During Macdonald’s trial, King repeatedly named a suspect whose name was suppressed by the court.
“So it wasn’t so much a name suppression application, nobody made that on his behalf,” Gallivan said.
He said the Court decided the man was on the periphery and had not been charged.
“The perennial problem with name suppression is open justice and the ability to be able to not be slayed in the court of public opinion… that is really the underlying consideration that the judge has to come to terms with in all name suppression applications, whether they involve the defendant or whether they involve people on the periphery.
“That is, is it in the public interest for this person to be named in the pursuit of open justice or do they need to be protected?”
Professor Gallivan said the sportsman is now in a tough position.
“He might think at the end of it: ‘Gee I wish the police did charge me. If I’m not going to get name suppression, I’ve got no opportunity to clear my name. I’ve just got innuendo and suspicion.’”
Professor Gallivan said the arguments are incredibly complex, a balancing of many competing factors.
He said the courts in Parker’s case appeared to be “turning themselves inside out” in an effort to show that he was not being given special status.
“Often members of the public think these things are pretty straight forward, but it’s not about weighing an illegitimate consideration against a moral consideration… all the considerations are equally valid. One person’s privacy is another person’s right to public knowledge, for justice to be done. You can’t just apply an equation and spit the answer out at the end.”
The courts decide Parker’s rights to privacy are no different to anyone else’s
Everyday, in courthouses across the country, people are named during criminal trials.
Their names are invariably made public. They might be witnesses, they could be relations or friends of the accused.
Their private text messages exchanged with those accused of committing crimes are often made public if they are deemed relevant to the case.
Parker was at one time a world boxing champion, but the courts have determined that his rights to privacy are no different to anyone else’s.FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA