In Court yesterday in the defamation case taken against him by Earl and Lani Andrew Little said:
“…once the Auditor-General did her inquiry, I accepted her conclusion there was no impropriety and I was happy to give them a public apology”.
However he didn’t attempt a public apology until two weeks ago, and Lani Hagaman has said in courth that the first she knew about it was being asked for a response to it by journalists.
And I don’t recall Little saying that he “accepted her conclusion there was no impropriety”.
Back in September when the report was released from Stuff: AG clears contract at centre of political donations row
The Auditor General has found there was nothing unusual about the selection of Scenic Hotel Group as the operator of a Niue tourism resort at the centre of a political row over a six figure donation to National.
Auditor General Lyn Provost said from the available information her office had found there was a standard procurement process with reasoned and documented analysis for the selection of Scenic Hotel Group to operate the resort, and for the subsequent investment of New Zealand international development assistance funds in expanding the resort.
The contract was referred to Provost by Labour leader Andrew Little after he questioned the company’s links to National.
Little is now being sued for defamation by the Hagaman’s after refusing to apologise and retract a statement that the deal “stunk to high heaven”.
Little said in a statement the limits to Provost’s mandate meant she was unable to address the key issues he had raised.
“I have a duty as Leader of the Opposition to raise questions in the public interest and respond to media stories on the use of public funds.
“Taking the issue to the Auditor-General was the right thing to do.”
He would not comment further as the matter was before the courts.
That seems to be at odds with what he said in court yesterday.
RNZ reports on yesterday in court: Andrew Little defends efforts to settle defamation case
Mr Little told the court he accepted the Hagamans were entitled to an apology, and letters were exchanged between his lawyers and the Hagamans about that.
“As I’ve said, once the Auditor-General did her inquiry, I accepted her conclusion there was no impropriety and I was happy to give them a public apology.
“The frustration was trying to get form of apology that would be acceptable [to the Hagamans].”
Mr Little said he was sorry for any hurt he had caused the Hagamans, and apologised to Lani Hagaman in person in court today.
“I apologise for the words … causing you hurt and I stand by the efforts I’ve made to resolve this matter,” he said.
He still seems to be struggling with how to do an appropriate apology.
The Hagamans’ lawyer, Richard Fowler QC, questioned him closely about his claim that the couple appeared not to want to reach a resolution.
Mr Little conceded there had been an offer, but his letter in reply said while he would make an apology he did not agree to pay the costs sought or damages.
He said he thought the proposal from the Hagamans was just an opening gambit and he expected further negotiations, but the amount they claimed kept rising.
“They said $100,000, then $215,000. I thought the legal costs were excessive.”
“It included $17,000 to a PR firm, which I understood is not recoverable in court … and I wouldn’t meet that cost.”
A sensible opening gambit could have been a comprehensive apology?
Mr Fowler asked Mr Little whether it would not have been wise to check details before ruining someone’s reputation, but Mr Little disputed that.
“Given the track record of the government I thought what I was doing was right and proper.”
But instead Little is still trying to defend making accusations against the Government (part of his defence is qualified privilege, doing his job as Leader of the Opposition) and by association against the Hagamans and their company.
The case continues today. It seems to be progressing quite quickly with the cross-examination of Little starting yesterday. It has been set down for five days and so far looks likely to fit in that time frame.