Politics | Green Party

Tana ‘likely’ knew about allegations of worker exploitation - investigation

Darleen Tana has resigned from the Greens after an investigation into the allegations. Photo: Marika Khabazi

This article was first published by RNZ.

Darleen Tana ‘likely’ knew about allegations of worker exploitation at her husband’s business and did not disclose them to the Green Party, an investigation has found.

RNZ has seen the full executive summary of barrister Rachel Burt’s report into what Tana knew about the allegations of unpaid wages and visa breaches at E Cycles NZ, what she did about them and what steps she took to inform the Greens.

Tana resigned from the Greens after an investigation into the allegations, with the Green Party calling a caucus meeting on Saturday, unanimously demanding she resign from Parliament.

Burt said the investigation took longer than anticipated due to a broadened scope, the late arrival of extensive evidence from a complainant and the “lengthy and often unclear” evidence from Tana and her husband Christian Hoff-Nielsen.

“The owner of the business did not provide a coherent or consistent verbal account and his evidence both oral and documentary tended to obfuscate rather than elucidate,” Burt wrote of Hoff-Nielsen.

“The respondent’s evidence shifted over the investigation with different explanations as to why that was so, requiring significant cross referencing to earlier accounts and documentation to come to findings,” Burt wrote of Tana.

The report found Tana was effectively a co-founder of E Cycles NZ and while her day-to-day operational involvement reduced in mid-2019, she continued to support and assist the business, at times extensively, for the following three years.

Burt spoke to former employee Charles ‘Chuck’ Simpson for her report and wrote he had been a credible witness while, contrastingly, Tana and Hoff-Nielsen were not.

“Christian set out responses to me that were plainly wrong and not corroborated by evidence. Throughout our interview he also changed or adjusted his answers and so lacked consistency of account, meaning I found him unreliable.

“Darleen’s credibility was significantly compromised too, because she initially told me she had nothing to do with Green Wheels Blenheim Limited and it was purely Christian’s business and quite separate from E Cycles.

“When I asked her if she had been a director she responded, no. However, eventually when I noted the Companies Office data, she conceded she had been a director, but it was only for a short time, and she was not operationally involved.”

Burt wrote Tana was clearly operationally involved in the business when the breaches of employment standards or conditions took place, adding Tana had been named in the personal grievance letter Simpson filed in January 2019 seeking unpaid wages and compensation.

None of this was raised with the Green Party when Tana was a candidate in 2020 or 2023, the report states.

Burt’s report found it “more likely than not” Tana was also aware of a second personal grievance claim, filed by former employee Nick Scott, for lost wages and compensation in August 2021.

Tana did not raise this with the Green Party either.

The investigation also found it “more likely than not” Tana was aware of potential breaches of employment standards regarding another former employee who did not have a correct visa during several months’ worth of work at E Cycles NZ.

“The visa he had... related to being a seasonal fruit picker. As the WhatsApp messages show, Darleen requested a copy of the visa on 30 November 2021, and acknowledged receipt of it.

“Darleen was well versed in immigration applications and requirements and so on the evidence I have it appears she would have seen the visa was not suitable for E Cycles work.”

Burt wrote it was apparent Tana was aware this former employee was concerned about pay irregularities, late payments and potential breaches of employment standards relating to him.

Her report notes the former employee later made a police complaint after Tana approached him at his new place of work and told him to stop saying negative things about E Cycles NZ.

“[The employee] claimed Darleen was threatening and said she would take defamation proceedings.”

None of this was disclosed to the Green Party by Tana, Burt said.

Burt’s report also covers a fourth employee - Santiago Latour Palma - who claimed Tana had overseen an unpaid work trial in September 2022 and arranged to pay him under the table for it as he did not have a valid visa.

His legal representative raised a grievance in February 2024 and a copy was sent to Darleen at her parliamentary address; an email that sparked discussions between Tana and her Green Party colleagues.

Burt wrote Tana’s evidence in connection with this case was “particularly inconsistent and often shown to be factually incorrect.”

“While initially in her meetings with the former Chief of Staff and Marama Davidson [’Marama’] in February 2024 she denied any involvement or awareness, in the meeting on 14 March 2024 with her Party colleagues, she then admitted Santiago did talk to her but said there was nothing she could do and so referred the matter to Christian.

“However, when she met with me, she told me she was stressed at the 14 March meeting, because of Chlöe’s interrogation and her emotional response, and so she became confused. Darleen told me the truth was that Santiago never raised any of his concerns with her.”

Burt wrote this explanation was contradicted by a draft letter prepared by Tana’s lawyers that stated Santiago had raised his concerns with her and she had referred the matter to her husband.

The lawyer said Tana had signed her Green Party Candidate Code by this point but did not bring any of these issues to the party’s attention.

Tana could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night but has previously said in a statement she does not believe natural justice has been followed in this process.

“I want to make it clear that I do not accept the findings of the report and believe that it substantially misrepresents the level of my involvement in my husband’s business.

“This was an investigation into what I knew and should have disclosed to my party leadership. I am therefore deeply concerned by the party’s summary of the findings.

“The report does not say that migrant exploitation has occurred, let alone that I am responsible for it in any capacity.

“I have only had a short time to consider this report, and am taking some time to consider it before making any further comment.”