Grace Millane trial – closing arguments

I have tried to avoid a lot of the media detail on the Grace Millane murder trial, but what I had seen made me think it was tending to look like not guilty of murder, but as the defence has claimed, ‘rough sex’ gone badly wrong.

But I read through a summary of the prosecution and defence final arguments in the case yesterday, and that leant me back towards a reasonably possibility of a guilty verdict. There are some aspects that just don’t seem to be accidental, like if someone is being strangled this takes time – several minutes at least – and surely the person putting pressure on another persons throat would notice the victim go limp.

And what is alleged to have happened immediately after death – watching porn, googling Waitakere ranges (where the body ended up being buried) and “hottest fire”, and taking photos of the body (the defence claim there is no proof she ws dead then), don’t fit with the defendant’s claim that they had sex, he had a shower and went to bed and found Millane dead on the floor in the morning.

And then there is the burying of the body and the lying to police.

Stuff have a detailed report on the prosecution and defence final arguments here (read from the Live section bottom to top) – Grace Millane murder trial: Crown and defence sum up the case

Reports from Stuff – Grace Millane murder trial: A ‘compelling case of murder’ or an unforeseen accident?

And: Grace Millane murder trial: Judge to sum up the case

The jury deciding the case of the man accused of murdering Grace Millane will hear a summing up from Justice Simon Moore on Friday.

The jurors will then retire to consider their verdict at the High Court in Auckland.

They have heard closing arguments from the Crown and defence lawyers, as well as weeks of evidence.

It’s difficult to know what the outcome of a trial like this will be from a smattering of media reports only. The jury has heard all the evidence and arguments, and will make decisions based on all of that.

It looks unlikely there will be verdict today or this week.

Brian Henry threatens Nick Smith and Guyon Espiner damages claim “as high as $30,000,000.00”

Lawyer Brian Henry, closely associated with Winston Peters and NZ First, has threat to sue National MP Nick Smith and RNZ’s Guyon Espiner for defamation “for general damages together with special damages which from the information to hand could be as high as $30,000,000.00”.

This looks remarkably heavy handed – Smith claimed intimidating – and potentially a chilling effect on our democracy and journalism. One thing it does is ensure is that Henry becomes even more in the spotlight.

Meanwhile stuff continues to risk threats of legal action: ‘I am the dark shadow of NZ First’ – what party candidates claim Winston Peters’ lawyer said

Brian Henry’s role in the unfolding NZ First donations scandal is now under close scrutiny. In addition to being Peters’ right-hand man, lawyer and NZ First’s judicial officer, he is also a trustee of the New Zealand First Foundation. The foundation appears to have been taking political donations, while operating as a political slush fund for the NZ First political party.

Henry also runs QComms, a company which Stuff understands runs the party’s Nation Builder website – a campaigning and membership tool.

Some party members call Henry “Peters’ attack dog”. People turn skittish when the name is mentioned in interviews. Numerous people connected to NZ First who spoke to Stuff feared lawsuits and retribution for doing so.

Numerous sources have confirmed to Stuff that, during a candidates briefing in at a hall in Takanini near Manukau in the lead up to the 2017 election, Henry gave NZ First candidates a lesson in how the party really works.

“I am the dark shadow in this party that you don’t want to receive a phone call from,” attendees told Stuff he said. “My job is to make sure Winston Peters gets the position he deserves and none of you are going to get in the way of that,” Henry said, according to sources present at the meeting.

Henry’s comments have surfaced as a raft of former NZ First officials have come forward to Stuff – both on the record and on the condition of anonymity – complaining that they were kept in the dark about party finances, the existence of the New Zealand First Foundation. Anyone who challenged Peters, Henry or Doug Woolerton, a former MP, party president and the other trustee of the NZ First Foundation, was forced out, sources have told Stuff.

“We started off in the party and believed in its ideals and policies,” the person said.

“But the longer you are there, the more you notice these backroom deals and as soon as you start to get close, or start challenging Winston on it, you get moved aside pretty quickly.

The influence of Henry within the party is enormous and across all aspects of its operations, numerous sources told Stuff.

“Winston Peters calls Henry to back people down,” one former MP said. “He’s an attack dog. People are afraid of being tied up in litigation.”

This doesn’t surprise me and probably won’t surprise journalists. Peters threatened me with defamation action many years ago (through a lawyer I think, I can’t remember who that was).

Peters has claimed that the party is operated democratically, but it isn’t referred to as Winston First for nothing.

RNZ: NZ First Foundation trustee threatens lawsuit against National leader and MP

National has been pursuing New Zealand First and the prime minister over allegations about the handling of party donations.

Yesterday, National’s Nick Smith made a comment in Parliament about the donations.

This afternoon he tabled an email that he and National Party leader Simon Bridges received today from Mr Henry.

It said media reports had been “false and malicious”, adding that the loan activities to the party were lawful.

In the email, Mr Henry invited Dr Smith and Mr Bridges to “repeat what you said in the House in public or apologise”.

“Please note if you oblige with this request I will sue you for defamation for general damages together with special damages,” the email reads.

Speaking to reporters outside the House, Dr Smith said he needed to be very “constrained and careful” about his choice of words, given the legal threat, but he described the email as “extremely worrying”.

He said it was very concerning that an MP “going about their duties of holding the government to account” should be threatened in this way.

“I feel very strongly about the importance of New Zealand having a high level of transparency, I take great pride that when National left government New Zealand had the top ranking in the world as the least corrupt country and want to make sure that’s protected,” Dr Smith said.

“It makes you very nervous of that work when effectively the financial wellbeing of your family is being threatened.”

Letter from Brian Henry sent to National MP Nick Smith and leader Simon Bridges.

Mr Henry said in his email there was one loan from the foundation of $73,000, which was repaid in full over two years.

However, in a statement the Electoral Commission told RNZ that according to NZ First’s returns, there was one loan of $73,000 entered into in Dec 2017, another separate loan of $76,622 was disclosed in May 2018. The Commission said it understood that loan was to replace the first loan. Then there was a further loan of $44,923 disclosed in April 2019.

Going by the continuation of media reports after the defamation threat Henry’s threat does not appear to have buried the story.

Media are repeating what Smith said in Parliament – ‘this is a rort with a capital R’ – as they are protected from legal action when reporting what is said under parliamentary privilege.

Newsroom: Stonewalling on donations saga but many questions remain

NZ Herald: NZ First Leader Winston Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry threatens to sue a National MP for $30m

New Zealand First has upped the ante in the saga over its mysterious foundation, with party leader Winston Peters’ long-time lawyer Brian Henry threatening to sue National for $30 million.

In the House, senior National MP Nick Smith tabled a letter in which Henry issued a clear ultimatum to the veteran MP.

“Repeat what you said in the House in public or apologise.”

A spokesperson for National said the party would not be commenting on the letter or the threat.

But speaking to Newstalk ZB, Smith said he stood by the comments he made in the House.

He would not, however, repeat the comments he made in the House under privilege for “obvious reasons”.

This threat from Henry just escalated the NZ First donations and PGF application issues to a higher level.

Shane Jones avoids answering questions properly in Parliament

Shane Jones repeatedly avoid giving a full answer to questions in Parliament about when he first knew when “Mr Henry and N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had made an application to the Provincial Growth Fund”.

Chris Bishop: Was he aware informally between 8 April and 14 October that Mr Henry and N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had made an application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat again, 14 October is a date of great significance. That is the date that I was formally notified of the application.

That leaves open the obvious assumption that Jones knew about the application before he recused himself on 14 October.

Chris Bishop: Why did David Henry email his office on 21 September about the project, and why didn’t he declare a conflict then?

Hon SHANE JONES: There is no conflict between myself and a Mr David Henry, an individual I might have met once or thrice. I have clearly stated that I have a longstanding relationship with Mr Brian Henry…

Brian Henry was a director of N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd since the company was incorporated on 27 March this year. Winston Peters’ partner Janet Trotman became a director on 27 August.

It would be remarkable that Henry or Trotman would not have declared their connection to NZ First in the application, and that Jones didn’t know they were connected with the application.

 

 

7. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: On what date was N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd’s application to the Provincial Growth Fund lodged, and when did he first become aware that N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): I am advised the application was lodged on 8 April. I found out that the application was coming to Ministers for consideration on 14 October.

SPEAKER: No, I’m going to—

Chris Bishop: Point of order—

SPEAKER: No, I don’t want a point of order. I want the Minister to answer the second leg of the question.

Hon SHANE JONES: April 8 was the date that the company’s application was lodged. I became aware that the company had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.

SPEAKER: Thank you.

Chris Bishop: What is the conflict of interest that meant he recused himself from any decision making about the application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES: When I became a Minister, I identified a relationship I had with Mr Brian Henry, and, at that point, upon learning an application was wending its way through the process, because I had identified that association when I became a Minister, I recused myself.

Chris Bishop: Is he saying to the House that between 8 April, when the application was lodged, and 14 October, when he declared a conflict of interest in relation to decision making about the application, he was not aware an application had been made?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat again, I became aware of a formal application coming to Ministers on 14 October. I have asked my staff to go back and to test—

Hon Amy Adams: When did the Minister know it had been made?

Hon SHANE JONES: —whether or not there had been any briefings—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! The member will resume his seat. This is a very important question. I want to hear the answer, and Amy Adams is—

Hon Amy Adams: He didn’t answer it.

SPEAKER: Amy Adams is interfering with me hearing the answer. She will not interject again during question time. Sorry, I’m going to go right back and I’m going to ask for the supplementary question to be asked again.

Chris Bishop: I’m possibly paraphrasing a little bit. Is he saying to the House that between 8 April, when the application was lodged, and 14 October, when he recused himself from any decision making about the application, he was unaware that an application had been made?

Hon SHANE JONES: I became aware of this formal application on 14 October. I have asked staff to ascertain in the wodge of papers that, time to time, wash up in my office, was there any reference at all to Mr Brian Henry in any application, and they have told me zero—that there was no reference whatsoever to that application from that individual.

Chris Bishop: Was he aware informally between 8 April and 14 October that Mr Henry and N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had made an application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat again, 14 October is a date of great significance. That is the date that I was formally notified of the application. Now, I must say that the development of proposals and the gestation that proposals go through, I would not know at the level of the officials who is dealing, given that there are 2,500 proposals, and it’s akin to me being on the bridge—I’m not down in the boiler room.

Chris Bishop: Between 8 April and 14 October, was he aware that N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd was in discussions with officials from the provincial development unit about a possible future application—a formal one—to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES: As I’ve said, the life cycle of the Provincial Growth Fund application is that it’s akin to the life cycle of an insect. There is no shortage of people, throughout New Zealand, in particular provinces—because I am a crowd-pleaser in the provinces. I send all people interested in the Provincial Growth Fund to go and see the officials. The officials help them navigate the process. When an official decision is required, that’s when one exercises the judgment: are you in a position where you need to recuse yourself? So it is most important that the House focuses on the date of 14 October, when I was formally notified that an application was on its way to the Ministers.

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: I know what the point of order is. It was wonderful rhetoric but it did not address the question.

Hon SHANE JONES: Until 14 October, I was not formally notified of the existence of an application. I am advised, however, that officials have put in reports the name of the company they were dealing with. Unfortunately, I had no idea who that company was.

Chris Bishop: Was he aware of discussions taking place between N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd and officials at the provincial development unit between 8 April, when the application was made, and 14 October, when he recused himself?

Hon SHANE JONES: As I said, I am not aware of the detail—the extent—of any discussions between Mr Brian Henry or a company I had never heard of and did not recognise until such time as a formal duty fell upon me to make a decision. At that point, I recused myself. Then it was turned down, which is how the process works.

Chris Bishop: Why did David Henry email his office on 21 September about the project, and why didn’t he declare a conflict then?

Hon SHANE JONES: There is no conflict between myself and a Mr David Henry, an individual I might have met once or thrice. I have clearly stated that I have a longstanding relationship with Mr Brian Henry, belonging to a family who has had 150 years of involvement in forestry. In fact, if any individual wants to contribute to the development of our forestry strategy and is looking for some support from the Government, they go through the formal process and they take their chances. In this case, they were unsuccessful.

Chris Bishop: Was he aware at any point between 8 April and 14 October that representatives from N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd were in discussions about an existing application or possible future application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat again, the point at which I became formally notified was 14 October. Now, the member has identified an email. I get so many of them; I have no recollection of it. Now, whether or not that individual or that company was talking to officials, as I said, that’s at the stage when the application is a larva stage, or the pupa stage—the time I wouldn’t be involved.

Hon Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that N.Z. Future Forest Product Ltd’s application to the Provincial Growth Fund was declined?

Hon SHANE JONES: The application from the said company, I understand, was declined by fellow Ministers after I had recused myself. I would say that New Zealanders who may belong, or may have associations with politicians, are welcome to engage with the bureaucracy. It’s when a Cabinet Minister is required to exercise allocated authority—that’s when you recuse yourself, which, obviously, I have done, with considerable skill.

Drip of revelations continue on NZ First Party/Foundation

Winston Peters and whoever run NZ First with him seem to have tried to benefit both ways with the NZ First Foundation – they sold it as part of the party, as the name implies, but are claiming it is separate from the party. But the drip feed of revelations continues to suggest what looks obvious, the Foundation is an attempt to avoid donation transparency law.’

There is no evidence that donors to the Foundation, and therefore to the Party, were rewarded with favourable policies, or grants from the Provincial Growth Fund. But the best way to avoid these types of impressions is transparency. The secrecy used – even NZ First MPs and ex-party officials claim to have not known about the Foundation – is always going to raise suspicions. Especially given Peters’ past shadiness and dishonesty regarding donations.

Matt Shand at Stuff today: Who are the donors behind the NZ First Foundation?

Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters claims to be the leader who stands up to corruption and fights for the little man, but donations to the foundation show he is backed by wealthy investors, horse racing figures, food magnates, and property juggernauts.

Quite aside from the legal question over the relationship between the foundation and the party is the question of how Peters presents himself: the honest broker between two old sides of politics.

One of the crucial questions swirling around the NZ First donations saga revolves around who exactly knew what, and the relationship between the party and the foundation. Peters says the foundation is totally separate from the party, and that all questions about it are a matter for the party.

That sounds contradictory and confusing – but Peters often sounds contradictory and confusing.

“I look after the political wing of the NZ First party, that’s an administrative matter,” Peters said in Parliament on Tuesday.

“I’m in charge of the political body of NZ First.

That’s well known.

As for the administrative body, for 27 years we’ve complied with the electoral law in this country”.

That also seems contradictory. “We” suggests he is also in charge of “the administrative body”, bujt it’s not clear what exctly that is. The Foundation?

But Stuff reveals that Tauranga-based list MP Clayton Mitchell acted as one of the bagmen for the foundation – which appears to have operated as a political slush fund – financing NZ First’s party operations.

Many sources, on and off the record have confirmed that Mitchell solicited donations for the party, but would often give out the NZ First Foundation’s bank account details.

So at least one MP was also involved.

It can also be revealed that at least some donors spoken to by Stuff were not aware that donations were going to foundation and not the political party.

The revelation that Mitchell was one of the bagmen for the NZ First Foundation could derail Peters’ assertion that the party and foundation, which received more than $500,000 worth of donations, are not connected.

Donations to the foundation are under the $15,000 threshold required for the party to declare them, but several donors said they believed they understood were donating money to NZ First, and not the foundation.

It seems difficult to separate the two.

But there were other large donations, many of which are from companies and individuals who work in industries that have benefited from the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund. Stuff is not suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the donors, and it may be that those industries would have benefited regardless.

The largest series of donations occurs from Conrad Properties Ltd or companies and trusts connected to that company. The company donated $27,500 to the foundation in 2017 and 2018, as well as $15,000 in 2019 to date.

The largest of those is over the threshold requiring the donor to be identified.

The racing industry feature heavily within the donations, with at least $80,000 identified.

One investor, who Stuff has decided not to name, has connections with the mānuka honey industry, and has spoken out about the need to protect the brand’s copyright.

The Provincial Growth Fund, overseen by NZ First minister Shane Jones, has granted $5.7m granted to the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society to help protect its trademark. There is no information saying the two are linked.

Those sort of links emphasise the need for transparency. If there is no direct connection between donations and PGF grants then everything should be done openly to show it.

The volume of donations is at odds with what the party recorded in its 2017 and 2018 returns.

In 2017 NZ First secretary Anne Martin declared that the party received only 13 donations of $5001 to $15,001, totalling $135,994, for the 2017 calendar year.

In 2018 then secretary Elizabeth Witihera reported five donations totalling $65,000 in the same range, but foundation records show 10 donations totalling $135,000.

Up to April this year, the foundation had received $80,485 in donations.

That will no doubt be checked out by the inquiry started yesterday by the Electoral Commission after a complaint was made to them.

RNZ: NZ First’s political donations: A creeping feeling of deja vu

Swirling rumours of dodgy dealings over political donations, Winston Peters full of bluster and denial, and potentially a drawn-out series of combative but ultimately meaningless exchanges with the parliamentary press gallery.

There are perhaps lessons here too for Jacinda Ardern, as Prime Minister of the Cabinet, and who the opposition will ultimately hold responsible if these allegations gain momentum.

In 2008 it all went wrong for Mr Peters; the months of controversy around the Spencer Trust and attacks on his integrity resulted in a ballot box defeat, ejecting him and his party into the political wilderness.

The central allegation was around a $100,000 donation from businessman Owen Glenn – he insisted he made the donation to New Zealand First with the knowledge of Mr Peters – who said he knew nothing about it.

There were also theatrics – he summoned journalists to the party’s offices in Bowen House where he brandished the infamous “No” sign – the reply to every journalist’s question about receiving the Glenn donation.

Then there was the spectacle that was the Privileges Committee. A super-sized select committee room set up for the occasion with big screen TVs for prime viewing. Main antagonist and ACT leader Rodney Hide took up his position at the front of the public gallery each day as Mr Peters and loyal lawyer Brian Henry were put through their paces.

Mr Peters was censured by Parliament but in the end that was just a slap on the wrist.

More testing were his relationships with then-Prime Minister Helen Clark and Deputy Michael Cullen, who stood by Mr Peters until his resignation as Foreign Minister became inevitable.

National has described the latest claims, if true, as the most serious of their kind in New Zealand history.

But as with internal political scandals, National will have to step carefully as its nose is not completely clean.

For years it used blind trusts to transfer donations to the party itself, a practice that ceased with a law change. Even now there is still an active Serious Fraud Investigation into the National Party relating to the disclosure of donations.

But apart from NZ First the biggest political risks are for Jacinda Ardern and Labour, who chose to go into a coalition with Peters knowing his history.

Danyl Mclauchlan at The Spinoff: The NZ First donations scandal is very serious, and won’t let Jacinda Ardern hide

There are two separate issues here. The first is whether New Zealand First has broken the electoral law. That’s a matter for the Electoral Commission, and if they decide the law was been broken they can refer the matter on to the police or the Serious Fraud Office. Peters says he is looking forward to discussing the matter with the Commission, and is “confident that New Zealand First has operated within electoral laws, now and for the last 27 years”.

The second is whether senior ministers in the current government could get caught up in accusations of corrupt practices. When you have companies and individuals making secret donations to a party that holds the portfolios in those industries, there is every reason for the public to ask questions about whether their government is behaving defensibly.

New Zealand First’s coalition partners have dreaded this moment for two years. The prime minister’s instinct will be to distance herself from the scandal and hope that it goes away. “We assume that the law has been followed.” “It’s a matter for the Electoral Commission.” “I am not responsible for the New Zealand First Party.” And so on. But the matter of whether or not she presides over a government linked to allegations of “corrupt or illegal practices” is not a matter for another party or office. The integrity of the government is the prime minister’s responsibility.

One of the things that led to the end of the Clark government was the endless drip feed. The allegations of secrecy and deceit swirling around NZ First just kept coming. And now this government is trapped in the same political hostage situation, with the same politician, facing accusations of engaging in the exact same practices. An early election might be worth the risk if the alternative is a year of ongoing leaks and allegations

I don’t think an early election would help Labour much. Ardern yesterday effectively ruled it out “I’m not Muldoon” but the way information keeps dripping out political reality and necessity may change.

Mclauchlan has been involved in the Green Party in the past. He is now an astute political commentator.

Andrew Geddis: One possibility is NZ First has broken electoral law. The other possibility is worse

Let’s pause and look big picture. We have a political party that is a keystone of the current government. Its members are ministers, with responsibility for (among other things) distributing $3 billion in government largesse around the country’s provinces.

And now we are told that a legally-opaque foundation intimately connected to the party has raised hundreds-of-thousands of dollars from “primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires”. That foundation allegedly has used the money for the benefit of the party and its MPs. And no-one outside of the party and those that gave the money are made any the wiser.

If this is legal, then there’s no way that it should be. You can’t have a country’s political system run in this way and be considered the second least corrupt nation on the planet. Or, at least, you can’t do it for long.

Geddis is a law professor at Otago University.

This is an important democratic issue. There have been past concerns about donation skulduggery by both National and Labour, and there is an SFO inquiry into National after a complaint made by Jami-Lee Ross.

But the biggest issues here are what is being revealed about NZ First – the party and the foundation – and the implications of that for the current coalition government and next year’s election.

Some diverters have canvassed past party malpractices here over the last few days. Please don’t repeat diversion attempts. Either comment on this week’s revelations and their implications, or desist from dredging up squirrels.

And if you continue to grizzle about what I choose to post, it may encourage more rather than less posts on topics you may be trying to bury. A post on diversion and discrediting techniques by political activists is tempting.


More from Stuff today – QComms: the mysterious firm revving NZ First’s campaign engine

An obscure company directed by Winston Peters’ personal lawyer is at the heart of the NZ First campaign engine, documents from a Stuff investigation reveal.

Brian Henry is the sole director and shareholder of QComms. The company that has no online profile, phone number or any other listed information – but in 2018 charged the New Zealand First Foundation for at least $93,000 worth of work and reimbursements to contracted employees. One of these contractors is Henry’s daughter.

Henry is a trustee of the foundation, the director and shareholder of the company, and also the judicial officer of NZ First. This web of connections suggests he receives political donations in one hand and pays his own company with the other.

Invoice records for the NZ First Foundation reveal that two contractors for Thorn Services Limited drew wages from the Foundation account acting on behalf of QComms. One was former NZ First board member John Thorn. The other is Henry’s daughter, Jamie Henry.

Records show at least $93,000 was charged to the NZ First Foundation in contracted wages, reimbursements and other expenses for work done for QComms, a company which appears to have no income other than political donations given to the foundation.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/117570433/qcomms-the-mysterious-firm-revving-nz-firsts-campaign-engine

Trump impeachment hearing update

The Donald Trump impeachment hearing continues before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. It reveals differences between Trump and many diplomats and White House staff, the the unpredictability of Trump and any policy he tried to dictate. It also rises growing concerns about the actions of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani.

RNZ – Trump impeachment hearings: ‘We followed the president’s orders’

A US diplomat who is a pivotal witness in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump says he worked with the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine issues on “the president’s orders”.

It confirms Mr Trump’s active participation in a controversy that threatens his presidency.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told the inquiry that Mr Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Mr Trump’s political rivals “were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit” for the Ukrainian leader.

Mr Sondland, a wealthy hotel entrepreneur and Trump donor, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was aware and “fully supportive” of their efforts on Ukraine, providing a fuller role of the top US diplomat’s role in the affair.

Mr Sondland was appearing on Wednesday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead in the impeachment inquiry.

Mr Sondland testified Mr Trump had ordered him and two other senior officials to work with Mr Giuliani, who has refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry. Mr Giuliani at the time had been working to get Ukraine to carry out the investigations that would benefit Mr Trump politically.

“We did not want to work with Mr Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the president’s orders,” Mr Sondland said.

Fox News:  Sondland implicates top officials on Ukraine, but says he ‘never heard’ quid pro quo from Trump

European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland tied top officials to the “potential quid pro quo” involving U.S. military aid to Ukraine and investigations desired by President Trump during a highly anticipated impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday – yet said he never heard that link from the president himself.

One of the key witnesses in the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Trump, Sondland claimed he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aware of what was going on and said he specifically told Vice President Pence he “had concerns” the military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to investigations — though a Pence aide denied it. And he repeatedly lambasted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s leading role in the administration’s Ukraine dealings.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”

Still, in comments seized upon by Republicans, Sondland testified: “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of investigations. He said he never personally heard Trump discuss preconditions. And at one point, he confirmed Trump told him, “I want nothing.”

Sondland made clear Wednesday he merely presumed the aid was linked to investigations, at one point referring to this as a “guess.”

But he suggested he had his reasons, agreeing that the conclusion was like “two plus two equals four.” He stressed he never got a clear answer on why the aid was held up, saying in the absence of an explanation he came to believe that the aid and the investigations were linked.

“I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson,” Sondland said at one point, referring to the Republican senator involved in Ukraine policy. “And I also shared my concerns with the Ukrainians.”

Taken in their entirety, Sondland’s statements Wednesday are likely to fuel the narratives of both parties.

I think that’s given.

RNZ: US President Donald Trump’s Ukraine phone call ‘improper’ – expert

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, testified at the third public hearing in the impeachment investigation before the US House of Representatives intelligence committee.

He also denounced attacks on witnesses in the investigation.

The inquiry focuses on a 25 July phone call in which Mr Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically including one targeting Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

“It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to request – to demand – an investigation into a political opponent, especially (from) a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge,” Lt Col Vindman told the committee on Tuesday.

Ms Williams told the committee that Mr Trump’s call with Mr Zelenskiy was unusual because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter”.

She said the White House budget office had said Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had directed that $US391 million ($NZ608m) in security aid to Ukraine be put on hold and that she never learned why the assistance was later released in September.

The New Yorker: The Spectacular Failure of the Trump Wranglers

On Tuesday, nearly seven hours into the marathon third day of public impeachment hearings, Kurt Volker tried to explain to the House Intelligence Committee what it was like to carry out the nearly impossible task of wrangling U.S. policy toward Ukraine during the Presidency of Donald Trump. Volker, a veteran Republican diplomat who had been serving, since 2017, as Trump’s Special Representative to Ukraine, said that he realized last spring that he had a “problem,” and that it was Trump himself.

When Volker took the job, he testified, “I believed I could steer U.S. policy in the right direction,” an ambitious statement given that Trump had already been publicly skeptical of Ukraine and supportive of its adversary Russia. Still, Volker insisted that he thought he could maintain the long-standing U.S. policy of supporting Ukraine, a bipartisan priority ever since Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, in 2014, and launched a proxy civil war in the country’s east. “If a problem arose, I knew that it was my job to try to fix it,” Volker said.

In May, he learned that there was, in fact, a “significant problem”: the attitude of the President toward Ukraine. Trump, as Volker heard firsthand in an Oval Office meeting that month, believed that Ukraine was corrupt, “out to get” him, and harbored an animus going back to the 2016 election; he even embraced a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had intervened in the U.S Presidential race.

As a result, Trump was deeply skeptical toward the Administration’s own policy of supporting Ukraine and had no desire to meet with the country’s reformist new President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Volker believed that Trump was being fed misinformation about Ukraine by his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“I found myself faced with a choice: to be aware of a problem and to ignore it or to accept that it was my responsibility to try to fix it,” Volker testified. “I tried to fix it.”

To say that he failed would, of course, be an understatement.

All three of the witnesses who testified with Volker had listened in on Trump’s now infamous July 25th phone call with Zelensky, and in their testimony they recounted varying degrees of concern as they heard Trump demand that Zelensky do him the “favor” of investigating his political rival, the former Vice-President Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. The witnesses called Trump’s actions “improper,” “inappropriate,” and “unusual,” and said that they potentially undermine the bipartisan American policy of supporting Ukraine.

The testimony on Tuesday morning of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who is currently serving as the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, was particularly pointed. Wearing his Army dress blues and a chest full of decorations, Vindman delivered a devastating critique of his Commander-in-Chief.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Vindman said of listening to Trump’s July 25th phone call with Zelensky. “It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent,” Vindman said.

When he heard Trump press Zelensky to investigate Biden, he believed that it was a “political play,” one with unmistakable implications for the Ukrainians, and that it would “undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.” He went to the National Security Council’s lawyer after the call to report his concerns.

It was a remarkable moment, followed soon after by Vindman denouncing the “reprehensible” attacks by Trump and his supporters against himself and other witnesses from inside America’s nonpartisan national-security bureaucracy who have come forward to testify.

Several of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry found that out, to their dismay. Volker is perhaps the clearest example of this. Volker thought that he could handle the problem of Trump’s attitude toward Ukraine by engaging with the source of the “negative information flow”—Giuliani.

When he met Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for breakfast, in July, Volker acknowledged that Giuliani did bring up Biden and that Volker tried to talk him out of it. It did not work.

Trump still has the support and protection of some Republicans.

Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence panel, made exactly this point, suggesting that witnesses were merely having a policy dispute with the President, even though every single person who has appeared before the Committee has said that they were trying to carry out Trump’s policy as they understood it. “The American people elect the President, not the interagency consensus,” Nunes said. In his view, a White House process cherished by official Washington does not matter one bit. So, if Trump decided to blow up American policy toward Ukraine to withhold nearly four hundred million dollars in military aid, then that was U.S. policy.

This, of course, is one of the reasons why Trump is on his fourth national-security adviser, his second Secretary of State, and his third chief of staff. In a government of one, even the officials who want to serve the President can find themselves not knowing what it is they are supposed to be doing. They can be undercut at any moment; they have been.

A few months ago, there was no policy more bipartisan in Washington than backing Ukraine in its ongoing struggle with Russia. Just about the only person in the capital who did not support it was Donald Trump. It’s all so confusing. And that is nothing new in this Presidency.

Trump tries to do what he wants, regardless of advice. If he doesn’t get the advice he wants he fires the adviser.

Guiliani has told him what he wants to hear, and tried to run Trump’s policy on Ukraine. Guiliani could end up being the fall guy – like  number of other Trump associates who have now been prosecuted and convicted.

 

Open Forum – 21 November

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is for you to raise topics that interest you, or you think may interest others.. 

If providing opinions on or summaries of other information also provide a link to that information. Bloggers are welcome to summarise and link to their posts. Comments worth more exposure may be repeated as posts. Comments from other forums can be repeated here, cut and paste is fine.

Your NZ is a mostly political and social issues blog but not limited to that, and views from anywhere on the political spectrum are welcome. Some ground rules:

  • If possible support arguments, news, points or opinions with links to sources and facts.
  • Please don’t post anything illegal, potentially defamatory or abusive.

FIRST TIME COMMENTERS: Due to abuse by a few, first comments under any ID will park in moderation until released (as soon as possible but it can sometimes take a while).

Sometimes comments will go into moderation or spam automatically due to mistyped ID, too many links (>4), or trigger text or other at risk criteria. If they pass muster they will be released as soon as possible (it can sometimes take hours).

Peters denials on conflict of interest questioned

Winston Peters in a standup with media on Monday regarding questions over a company with connections to people with close connections to NZ First (lawyer Brian Henry and Peters’ partner Jan Trotman) (1 News):

What in earth would the Auditor general investigate? Because an application was made and it failed.

If it came to the question of whether there was a conflict of interest, well in the case of one person who wasn’t even then a director, but became an executive director  after the failure, how would that in any way be caught by a conflict of interest?

And in the case of myself and Shane Jones, well I didn’t even know about it and nor did Shane Jones to the best of our knowledge, because it was handled by the process.

What on earth would the Auditor General investigate?

A journalist asks a question “But if you’re confident everything was done by the book…”

We’re not going to have you running off in a psycho case of attack on a political party without any grounds whatsover.

No no if you want to tell me why the Auditor General is justified give me the reasons. Don’t sit there indolently and snottily and lazily saying you’ve got a case when you ain’t got one, for even a preliminary inquiry.

….Yes, I am calling you psycho, because you can’t event even make out the case.

You’ve got to be psychologically maladjusted if you can’t make a case out for an investigation and you think it’s sound. The laugh’s on you because you’re meant to be a journalist.

In Parliament yesterday:

Question No. 4—Finance

4. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Finance: How much money did NZ Future Forest Products Ltd apply for from the Provincial Growth Fund and what was the application for?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Associate Minister of Finance): I can confirm that N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd applied for a $15 million loan from the Provincial Growth Fund. As the information is already in the public domain, I can tell the member that the loan was to carry out a feasibility study for a new engineered timber operation in Gisborne. It’s worth noting that the application has been declined by Ministers.

Chris Bishop: On what date was responsibility for N.Z. Future Forest Products’ applications to the Government for funding through the Provincial Growth Fund transferred from the Hon Shane Jones to him because Mr Jones had identified a conflict of interest?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The transfer occurred on 4 November.

Chris Bishop: Does that mean that the Hon Shane Jones was the Minister in charge of the Provincial Growth Fund from March 2019, when N.Z. Future Forest Products’ application was made, up until 4 November, when the responsibility was transferred to him?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I wouldn’t characterise it as the member has. I’m not responsible for the period where Mr Jones—prior to the transfer on 4 November. Obviously, it was transferred to my office on 4 November. I received advice, and declined the application on 7 November.

Chris Bishop: Is he aware on what date the Hon Shane Jones became aware of the N.Z. Future Forest Products’ application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.

Chris Bishop: Is he aware of what the conflict of interest is that meant the Hon Shane Jones transferred responsibility to him as Associate Minister of Finance?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’m advised that Minister Jones took advice from the Cabinet Office and acted appropriately in transferring the matter to me for my responsibility to make the decision.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I am going to ask the member to—I mean, he can say no if he—

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Mr Speaker, I don’t have that detail. If the member does wish to put it down in writing, I’m sure we can find an appropriate answer.

Chris Bishop: Is he aware of whether the Hon Shane Jones wrote to the Prime Minister advising of the conflict of interest, as required by section 2.72 of the Cabinet Manual?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’m not responsible for that. I can confirm that the responsibility was transferred to me, obviously, on 4 November, and then, on 7 November, I declined the application.

This casts some doubt on what Peters has stated. perhaps journalists should go more psycho on this. Or at least do some more investigating.

Jaan Trotman was made a director in August. That now appears awkward given these dates.

National are again calling on the Auditor General to investigate – Jones oversaw PGF application for six months

“NZFFP’s application was made in March 2019 soon after the company was registered with Winston Peters’ personal lawyer Brian Henry appointed as a director, with Mr Peters’ partner Jan Trotman being appointed in August.

“This means Shane Jones was in charge of the process for nearly six months while NZFFP was discussing its application with officials.

“Multiple questions arise in this murky affair and the Auditor-General must investigate. Among them, why did it take Mr Jones so long to declare this conflict of interest? What advice led to Mr Peters also declaring a conflict, as he appeared to reveal in Parliament today, and when did he declare that conflict?

Peters declared a conflict of interest? On Monday he sgated “And in the case of myself and Shane Jones, well I didn’t even know about it and nor did Shane Jones to the best of our knowledge, because it was handled by the process”.

In question 1 yesterday:

Hon Paula Bennett: So does she believe it’s appropriate for the Deputy Prime Minister to call journalists “psychos” for asking questions and doing their job?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, when a journalist asks about an application to the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), which was treated only by the independent PGF fund managers and never went to Ministers, and where both Ministers declared a potential conflict of interest and the application did not succeed and failed, one has to ask oneself what sort of mind is it that thinks that the Ministers are so useless that they failed to get the application approved in the first place. That’s what a psycho looks like.

Both Ministers? Jones and Peters?

There may be some justification for further investigation.

Peters claims party financials legal, but no explanation of Foundation

Yesterday Winston Peters claimed that NZ First  has operated “within electoral laws” and that their financial arrangements using the NZ First Foundation are legal, but has given no explanation of how they have handled donations.

A media release:

Rt Winston Peters

Leader of New Zealand First

19 November 2019

Allegations raised this morning by Stuff Limited / Fairfax concern a party matter but I am confident that New Zealand First has operated within electoral laws, now and for the last 27 years. Declarable donations were declared to the Electoral Commission.

Our system of democracy is based on the secrecy of the ballot and privacy of party memberships and donations within specified limits.

We look forward to discussing this matter with the Electoral Commission.

Their financials don’t just remain secret from the public. Newsroom: Peters under fire over ‘foundation’ loans

New Zealand First MP and former deputy leader Tracey Martin expressed ignorance about the reports, saying: “I don’t know anything about the New Zealand First Foundation.”

Asked whether she was concerned by the allegations, Martin said simply that they were “interesting”.

Remarkable that she knows nothing about the Foundation, presuming that she is telling the truth – (Peters has a history of making false claims and denials:

Peters would not comment on the allegations in detail when approached by media before New Zealand First’s caucus meeting this morning, but said he would put out a press statement later in the day to “put the record straight”.

“For 27 years we’ve obeyed the electoral law of this country, we’ve never deviated, the last time there was allegations like this was in 2008.

“There were three inquiries, the Serious Fraud Office, the police and the Electoral Commission – they all found us to be exonerated, we’re not going to have this again.”

But:

In 2008, Peters was indeed cleared by police, the SFO and Electoral Commission over allegations of fraud regarding a $100,000 payment from Owen Glenn to his lawyer Henry. However, he was formally censured by Parliament after its privileges committee said he had “knowingly provid[ed] false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests”.

The problem for Peters and NZ First doesn’t look like going way.

Newsroom: Peters allegations another political toothache for PM

Serious allegations about New Zealand First’s approach to electoral laws are some way from being established – but there is enough in the claims to concern both Jacinda Ardern and the public as a whole.

RNZ’s Guyon Espiner opened a crack in the door with a piece asking important questions rather than providing answers about the foundation.

Now, Stuff’s Matt Shand has busted it down with an investigation alleging a concerted effort to cloak hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from “primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires”.

Shand’s story suggests the donations were used to finance election campaigns, pay for legal advice, and even hiring Joseph Parker to speak at the party’s 2017 conference.

So far, Peters has done little to refute the substance of the article.

A press release he claimed would put the record straight amounted to little more than a dodge of the allegations, along with the tautological statement that “declarable donations were declared”.

To borrow another tautology, this is deja vu all over again for Peters.

In 2008, a cascade of claims about donations made to New Zealand First by wealthy businessmen such as Sir Robert Jones, Sir Owen Glenn and the Vela family – but concealed from the public – sparked numerous investigations and contributed to the ousting of the Labour-led government at that year’s election.

Over a decade later, Peters remains unrepentant and insists his name was unfairly dragged through the mud, noting that the police, Serious Fraud Office and Electoral Commission all decided against taking action.

But that is not the glowing exoneration he makes it out to be.

While SFO director Grant Liddell said there was no basis for laying fraud charges, he suggested there were unanswered questions about other possible electoral breaches – essentially punting the matter to the police and the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission’s final ruling on the matternoted that the party’s 2007 return was “materially false” but not illegal, as the party secretary had no intention to misstate or conceal the facts, while the 2005 and 2006 returns fell outside of the time limit for prosecution.

Party officials have been leaving the party because they have been put at risk over the financial transactions that they know little about.

It noted specifically that the decision was about the party secretary’s actions only, and not any other members of the party – such as Peters himself.

The police investigation also cleared the party secretary specifically, rather than New Zealand First as a whole.

So Peters claiming exoneration looks farcical, but typical.

Unravelling the claims seems set to take months, rather than days or weeks – and is yet another political toothache that Ardern would rather not be dealing with.

It may run well into election year. Ardern and Labour should be concerned after what happened in 2008.

Stuff: What NZ First slush fund was spent on: Campaign HQ, staff overtime, and a shredder

NZ First officials and MPs were kept in the dark while $38,000 was spent on campaign headquarters and staff overtime by the party’s political slush fund, the New Zealand First Foundation.

Expenses records for the foundation seen by Stuff show it collected more than $500,000 in donations from April 2017 to March 2019 that could be in breach of electoral donation laws, particularly if the foundation was paying party expenses.

Many of these apparent donations to the foundation do not appear on the party’s electoral returns.

Invoices, seen by Stuff, reveal the foundation spent $325,000 in about 18 months to March 2019 – with most of the money appearing to directly benefit the NZ First Party.

This included renting and furnishing the party’s campaign office for the 2017 election as well as advertising material, reimbursements for travel, internet bills, legal advice and consultancy work.

It does not appear this spending was declared to the Electoral Commission by the party.

Nor revealed to many in the party.

One former MP said that discovering details about the foundation “slush fund” undermined the work of NZ First’s volunteer fundraisers.

Former NZ First treasurer Colin Forster said the accounts were disorganised and inaccurate when he took over the role in 2008.

“All of the accounts were all written in a A4 exercise book, like a child would use for school,” he said.

“It would be fair to say they were inaccurate.”

Forster said he had questioned the party’s income at meetings and he could not figure out where the money came from.

“A lot of people have given a lot to this party and they have been kept in the dark.”

In October 2019, Lester Gray resigned from his position as NZ First Party president after refusing to sign off on its financial statements.

Gray said in a letter to the NZ First board that he had not been shown documentation he requested and therefore could not sign off the returns.

“I refuse to sign off the 2019 financial reports with the information I have been provided,” he wrote to the  board.

“As president, the limited exposure I have had to party donations and expenditure leaves me in a vulnerable position.

“This type of operation does not align with my moral and business practice values, and I am therefore not able to support the party any longer.”

Former MPs say the financial reports and party expenses were never presented to members.

NZ First Party presidents – who are ostensibly in charge of the organisational wing of the party – are not welcome at caucus meetings.

While the NZ First constitution states that “the president has the right to attend any party meeting”, a party spokesman said it was a “longstanding convention since the inception of NZ First” that party presidents did not attend caucus.

NZ First are in disarray with ex MPs and officials apparently willing to break the secrecy.

I don’t think that denials and claims by Peters can be trusted.

And given that Peters appears to have maintained secrecy and control along with few cronies, I think the secret buck stops with him.

Stuff: Electoral Commission probes NZF

The Electoral Commission, which oversees electoral law, said it would contact the party this morning following revelations from Stuff around donations to the party’s foundation that were not declared to the commission.

“The documents being referred to in the media have not been shown to the Electoral Commission,” a spokeswoman said.

“We will be contacting NZ First and the New Zealand First Foundation to seek further information.”

Survey “reveals significant gaps in adult New Zealanders’ general knowledge”

The NZ Initiative has done a survey to try to gage levels of public knowledge.

New research released by The New Zealand Initiative reveals significant gaps in adult New Zealanders’ general knowledge.

Ignorance is not bliss: Why knowledge matters (and why we may not have enough of it) argues that although information is readily available nowadays, our basic knowledge of subjects like geography, history, and maths is low.

To get a glimpse of the state of general knowledge in New Zealand, the Initiative commissioned a representative survey of 1000 voting-age New Zealanders. Respondents were asked 13 general knowledge questions.

All of the questions asked in the survey:

I’ll change this to include the answers and results later.

 

NZ First funding under further scrutiny, Peters reacts under pressure

Last week RNZ reported: Mysterious foundation loaning New Zealand First money

A mysterious foundation that loans money to New Zealand First is under scrutiny, with a university law professor saying although it’s lawful, it fails to provide the transparency voters need in a democracy.

Records show New Zealand First has disclosed three loans from the New Zealand First Foundation. In 2017, it received $73,000. Then in 2018, it received a separate loan of $76,622, in what the Electoral Commission says was a loan executed to “replace the first loan”. In 2019, it received another loan for $44,923.

The New Zealand First Foundation is the only named entity that has provided any money – in loans or donations – to the New Zealand First party since 2017.

The only information known about the foundation is the names and addresses of the two men who are trustees. They are Brian Henry, who acts as a lawyer for the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, and Doug Woolerton, a former New Zealand First MP.

New Zealand First party returns show that in 2017 and 2018, the party received more than $500,000 worth of donations in amounts less than $15,000 which do not need to be disclosed under electoral law.

“They are the only political party in Parliament that hasn’t had anyone wanting to give them more than $15,000 and maybe they are unique,” Prof Geddis said.

“Alternatively, they may have managed to structure their fundraising activity so that if someone wants to give more than $15,000, they found a way that that can be given and can be of use to the party without it having to be publicly disclosed.”

Geddis said this is ‘within the law’, but it could be seen as working through loopholes to hide donations and donor identities, which I think would at least be against the intent of the law (unless the law was designed to allow for the hiding of donations).

Today Stuff has more information, and another electoral law expert suggests there could be rule breaches – NZ First Foundation dodging electoral rules? Records suggest breaches

Almost half a million dollars in political donations appear to have been hidden inside a secret slush fund controlled by a coterie of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ trusted advisers.

The secretive New Zealand First Foundation collected donations from wealthy donors and used the money to finance election campaigns, pay for an MP’s legal advice, advertising, fund a $5000 day at the Wellington races and even pay an IRD bill.

A New Zealand First spokesperson said on Monday the foundation had been in existence across several election cycles. “There has never been any suggestion that it is anything other than lawful,” she said.

Records uncovered in a Stuff investigation show a complex web that appears to be designed to hide donations to the NZ First Party via The New Zealand First Foundation.

This deliberate lack of transparency is particularly pertinent given the amount of money that is being handed out, some of it to companies, by the NZ First initiated Provincial Growth Fund.

Stuff has seen records for the foundation that suggest there have been breaches of the Electoral Act and that the foundation is being used to obscure political donations to the NZ First Party.

Donors to the foundation are primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires.

One legal commentator, public law expert Graeme Edgeler who also saw the records, believes there would be different consequences under the Electoral Act depending on whether the party and foundation are separate entities or connected.

In either scenario, Edgeler concluded the Electoral Act had likely been broken.

“If the foundation and party are separate, it is likely a corrupt or illegal practice occurred because donations from the foundation were not declared,” he said.

“If the foundation is part of NZ First, then the party secretary has likely committed offences around declaring donations or failing to keep records.

“If some donors were under the impression they were donating to the NZ First political party when making payments to the foundation, then there are possible breaches of the Electoral Act relating to party donations and ensuring proper records.”

Most credits into the foundation account have ‘donation’ in the description. Stuff has also seen receipts provided to donors for payments received.

The purpose of the foundation is not clear as its website has been taken down.

An archived website, captured in 2018, says the foundation had the “aim of ensuring there is a secure financial base for the New Zealand First Political Party” with activities funded being to “assist with the party long term”.

Some entries are simply labelled as “Deposit” with no names beside them.

Donors to the foundation include food manufacturers, racing interests, forestry owners and wealthy property developers.

With racing, forestry and property development all receiving increased funding from the coalition government, with NZ First having substantial leverage on policies, this deserves scrutiny – and transparency,

Efforts have been made by party officials to find out details of the foundation and some say they were removed from the party when they challenged Peters or Henry about finances. There is now a conga line of NZ First Party officials who say they have been forced out of the party.

Former NZ First treasurer Colin Forster claimed he was moved out of the party after questioning the financial records.

Winston Peters likes to scrutinise other people and parties but isn’t happy when attention is focussed on him and NZ First.

Yesterday: ‘Yes, I am calling you psycho’ – Winston Peters lashes out at journalists after grilling over NZ-First linked company

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters today told journalists to stop the “narrow, myopic dirt when NZ First is concerned”, when questioned about National’s call for the Auditor General to investigate a company that has links to NZ First.

He was asked about the matter by 1 NEWS’ Benedict Collins and a Newshub reporter today, and appeared to label one a “psycho”.

“Yes, I am calling you psycho, because you can’t event even make out the case,” he said.

“You’ve got to be psychologically maladjusted if you can’t make a case out for an investigation and you think it’s sound. The laugh’s on you because you’re meant to be a journalist.”

Peters doesn’t seem to be laughing though. Calling a journalist psycho “because you can’t event even make out the case” seems somewhat ironic given the lack of a case made out in court recently – Peters withdrew allegations that two National MPs had breached his privacy at the end of the hearing, after two years of accusing them.

Following this RNZ continued to report on it:  NZ First-linked company applied for $15m govt loan, pledges transparency

A forestry company with close links to New Zealand First has revealed it applied for a $15 million loan from the Provincial Growth Fund, which is overseen by NZ First minister Shane Jones.

RNZ revealed last week that Future Forest Products spent six months in discussions with government officials over its Provincial Growth Fund and also wanted up to $95m in funding through the One Billion Trees programme.

Brian Henry, lawyer for Winston Peters and judicial officer for the New Zealand First party, is a founding director of NZ Future Forest Products, which he helped to set up in March.

His son, David Henry, is another founding director and the company’s managing director, and Winston Peters’ partner Jan Trotman was made a director of the company in August.

In a statement released this afternoon, New Zealand Future Forest Products said it was “aware that two of its directors have personal links to the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister” and would be maintaining a higher level of transparency than required of it as a private company.

“The company has no further plans to apply for financial support from the New Zealand government,” the company said.

Transparency promised after this has all been revealed by journalists.

NZ First are being put under scrutiny and pressure, and Peters is not reacting like a politician with nothing to hide.

Journalists don’t have to seek re-election next year. With NZ First polling around and under the 5% threshold, and questions being asked about their financial integrity, the pressure is on Peters and appears to be getting to him a bit.

Peters to journalists yesterday:

And so get this very clear.

In two thousand and twenty, you’re not going to mount a campaign against a party you don’t like, while you let all the rest off the hook.

More of that standup here: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/yes-am-calling-you-psycho-winston-peters-lashes-journalists-after-grilling-over-nz-first-linked-company

Peters obviously isn’t happy that Jan Trotman has been linked to the company that had sought PGF funds. But Brian Henry is more deeply involved (in the company and in NZ First affairs).

In the case of myself and Shane Jones, well I didn’t even know about it and neither did Shane Jones to the best of our knowledge because it was handled by the process.

But according to the Stuff:

The Provincial Growth Fund bid was eventually rejected by Labour ministers after Shane Jones recused himself from the process.

Surely Jones must have known about it. And didn’t say anything to peters about it? And we’re expected to believe that Henry didn’t disclose his involvement to Peters?