INDEPENDENT NEWS

'We Need To Apply Natural Justice' - PM On NZ First Foundation Investigation

Published: Wed 19 Feb 2020 09:36 AM
The Prime Minister will take no action against Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, after confirmation of a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation.Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller
As the SFO prepares to prosecute four people over donations to the National Party, the New Zealand First Foundation is now also under investigation.
The initial complaint about the way the Foundation handles donations was laid with the Electoral Commission in November.
Peters has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Between April 2017 and August 2019, nearly $500,000 was deposited into the New Zealand First Foundation's bank account by donors, including from some of New Zealand's wealthiest businesspeople.
Over the same period, the Foundation spent more than $425,000 paying bills for the New Zealand First Party, including campaign advertising expenses, political consultants' fees, renting and setting up a campaign headquarters in Wellington, and running the party's website.
After looking into a complaint about the Foundation, the Electoral Commission concluded it had received donations that should have been treated as New Zealand First party donations, and referred it to the SFO.
Peters was asked if he would step down as a minister.
"Why would I do that...if the Electoral Commission didn't speak to me why would you ask that question?"
In 2008, Peters stood down as Foreign Minister in the Helen Clark Labour government, after the SFO confirmed it would investigate New Zealand First donations.
He said that was a different situation, as that 2008 investigation had included him personally.
"I stood aside and was cleared by three official bodies - that's what happened and it didn't concern you to tell the truth though did it?"
Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said there was no need for her to take any action at this stage.
"In my mind we need to apply natural justice here, I am awaiting the outcome of the Serious Fraud Office investigation and I think that's the right thing to do."
In past weeks Peters has tried to distance himself from the Foundation, saying he was not subject to an investigation, and "nor in the sense is New Zealand First".
Documents leaked to RNZ show Peters was present at a March 2017 board of directors' meeting, where the board agreed to the concept of establishing the foundation.
National's deputy leader Paula Bennett said Peters was "dancing on the head of a pin" if he was trying to run that argument.
"Is the New Zealand First Foundation that lent money to New Zealand First, that actually paid the bills of some of their events, a day at the races I believe and also paid for one of their MPs for their legal bills - those two things are very well connected."
When the SFO announced it was investigating donations paid to the National Party last year, Simon Bridges - as leader and a member of the party board - did not stand down.
That was different, said Bennett.
"He's not a senior Cabinet minister, he's not in charge of billions of dollars that are being spent. It's an accumulation of events that we've seen."
In response to a media application, more details about the prosecution relating to two $100,000 donations to National have been publicly released.
The four people already facing charges over the donations to the National Party will appear in the Auckland District Court next Tuesday.
Three of them went to the court today to get their name suppression lifted - that application is still with the judge.
Neither the current party leader, nor any National Party officials or staff, is among those charged.
RNZ
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