Team New Zealand GM rejects misspending claims as 'attack' on integrity

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Team New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton says recent allegations that the America's Cup defender might have misused public money are part of a "deliberate, sinister and highly orchestrated attack" on its integrity.

Dalton on Friday rejected allegations that have led the New Zealand government to suspend its funding of Team New Zealand, six months out from the start of the America's Cup regatta.

In a statement that did not substantively address the allegations, Dalton said Team New Zealand and its events arm America's Cup Events (ACE) were victims of a "highly orchestrated attack on our integrity and credibility by people with questionable motives."

New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on Thursday announced it was suspending its financial contributions to America's Cup Events until it has completed an investigation of the organization's structure and finances.

The business ministry on June 22 wrote to Team New Zealand and ACE, both of which are headed by Dalton, saying a private company it had commissioned to investigate the organizations' finances had raised "serious matters." It also expressed concerns about ACE's ability to stage a safe and successful America's Cup.

New Zealand media obtained a copy of the letter on Wednesday and have also obtained a copy of the report prepared by the company assigned by the business ministry to look into Team New Zealand and ACE. But Team New Zealand has obtained an injunction temporarily preventing publication of that report.

Dalton said the New Zealand media had created a "kangaroo court" to publicly try Team New Zealand.

The business ministry letter said it had found that public money paid toward the staging of the America's Cup had not been used for that purpose and it highlighted a $1.9 million loan from ACE to Team New Zealand. It also referred to a $650,000 payment to a Hungarian bank account that Dalton said was the result of a sophisticated scam.

"We want to reassure all of our supporters, our sponsors and partners that there has been no misappropriation of public money and we are working with MBIE to clear all allegations," Dalton said.

He said the claims are "a textbook case of intentional reputational damage 101."

"It is a deliberate, sinister and highly orchestrated attack, which includes anonymous tipoffs, recordings and document leaks," Dalton said. "Informants orchestrate unfair accusations, bypassing normal processes and going straight to external authorities. The authorities quite correctly look into the claims."

The New Zealand government and Auckland City Council will invest more than $1.6 million in the staging of the America's Cup from January to March next year. The regatta is the 36th contest for the America's Cup since it was first won by the schooner America in 1851, making it the oldest trophy in sports.