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Corrupt Cakes

Auckland cake decorator sentenced for role in in corrupt council contract

By Emily Moorhouse

A cake decorator who helped a council manager corruptly obtain a $459,000 contract has failed to dodge conviction and may now face deportation.

Neha Bubna has admitted her role in assisting Westland District Council manager Vivek Goel, who was caught taking cash bribes in exchange for helping associates secure lucrative contracts.

Goel gave advice, shared confidential information and helped draft tenders to ensure a number of contracts were awarded to companies run by people he had relationships with outside of work.

That included a $7 million sewage plant project to be built in Franz Josef in 2016 after the previous one was wiped out by a flood.

Bubna, who operated a cake decorating business in Auckland and had no experience with engineering or water treatment plants, and her now deceased father, became involved in this contract.

Yesterday, she appeared in Christchurch High Court where she was sentenced to 10 months' home detention on an admitted charge of obtaining by deception.

The court heard that her offending began when the Westland District Council made a call for tenders on the sewage plant project.

Her father, a friend of Goel's, operated a water treatment business in India called Techno Economic Services (TES India) and in November 2016, Bubna became the director of the New Zealand division of the business, TES NZ Ltd.

Goel put together the tender submission documents for the contract with the help of Bubna and other associates.

Bubna helped set up accounts and communications that concealed her and Goel's relationship and at one point she introduced herself to him in front of other council employees, so as to seem they did not know one another.

An email was set up for Goel, Bubna and the others to share information in an effort to avoid detection. They also used false names to sign off when communicating.

On 7 December 2016, the TES tender was submitted, alongside four other companies that also put forward bids for the project.

TES won the $459,000 contract and congratulatory messages were sent between Bubna and her co-defendants.

However, in 2017 the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched an investigation into Goel's conduct, and the contract was withdrawn and offered to another company.

Goel faced multiple changes laid by the SFO and later defended them in an eight week jury trial in the Christchurch High Court.

He was found guilty of 14 charges of corruption and bribery of an official, four charges of corrupt use of official information and two charges of obtaining by deception.

At Bubna's sentencing, Justice Rob Osborne said while he accepted she was vulnerable during the time of the offending due to the influence of her father and other personal circumstances, she still needed to be held to account.

The judge dismissed Bubna's application to be discharged without conviction and said there was a chance she could be deported from New Zealand.

Goel and one other co-defendant will be sentenced in March.

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