Wellington iwi leader Sir Ngātata Love was suffering from dementia when he was convicted and jailed for obtaining property by deception, a court has been told.
Love, 79, was found guilty last year of obtaining property by deception in the High Court in Wellington and was sentenced to two years and six months' imprisonment.
Love was found to have sold his influence as chair of iwi organisation Wellington Tenths Trust to a group working on a property development in Wellington.
The developers paid $1.5 million to a company run by his partner Lorraine Skiffington, but most of the money was used to pay off their mortgage.
At a Court of Appeal hearing today Love's lawyer, Jonathan Krebs, challenged the conviction and sentence.
"This appeal concerns a Māori knight of the realm who has devoted his life to the benefit and the furtherance of his people," he said.
"In his 80th year he finds himself in poor health, incarcerated in a prison in Wellington."
Mr Krebs said Love has dementia and during the trial he had to recall events from 10 years earlier.
"So when it came to trial he became bewildered, he became overwhelmed.
"He did not have the opportunity, because of his dementia, to articulate his answers properly."
Mr Krebs said at one point during the trial Love needed to be hospitalised and medical professionals said he was not fit to stand.
However, Crown lawyer Grant Burston said a neuro-psychological test was done on Love which confirmed he was not too sick to be trialled.
"His mental impairment did not affect, in any material way, the evidence he was able to give," he said.
Mr Burston cross-examined Love in the trial last year and said there was no ambiguity in his answers.
"It was not the appellant saying, 'Well, I cannot remember, I wish I knew.'
"It was 'I did not know about these things' and he was confident about that in the evidence that he gave."
Justice Harrison told the packed courtroom that both the charges and the length of the trial were reduced because of Love's poor health and his contribution to society.
But Mr Krebs argued that the sentence could have been lighter and pushed for home detention.
"In prison he has things done for him whereas were he in the community he would have to, to a greater degree, fend for himself therefore slowing the progression of his dementia."
He also said Love has diabetes, which might not be well catered for in jail.
However, Mr Burston said the diabetes was well controlled in prison and that his other medical conditions could be cared for.
The three judges presiding over the case reserved their decision.