More on the Shane Jones/NZ First conflict of interest

RNZ have revealed more information about the forestry company NZ Future Forest Products (closely linked to NZ First) that applied for $15 million of Provincial Growth Fun funds within two weeks of the company being formed.

The office of the Minister in charge of the PGF, Shane Jones, was sent documents about the bid five times over four months – why to his office rather than to the PGF office?

And Jones eventually declared a conflict of interest on 14 October, the same day RNZ asked questions via the Official Information Act. Jones claims the timing was a coincidence.

Jones claims not to have known that two people with close links to NZ First, long time friend of Winston Peters, personal and party lawyer and trustee of the NZ First Foundation Brian Henry, and Peters’ long time partner Jan Trotman, were directors of the company.

And he says that because a loan was not granted by the PGF (after Jones recused himself from decision making) none of this matters anyway. That is nonsense.

If it is to be believed that Jones didn’t know of the potential conflict of interest until the day he was OIA’d about it, which I think is quite a stretch, I think it is incredible that Henry and Trotman wouldn’t have declared their involvement to Jones and to Peters. They certainly should have.

RNZ (Audio): New details revealed on NZ First-linked company and Shane Jones’ office

New information released to RNZ reveals that Shane Jones’ office was sent documents about a forestry company’s bid for $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund multiple times and many months before he declared a conflict of interest because of links between the company and the New Zealand First Party.

As Guyon Espiner explains, it has now emerged that Mr Jones only declared a conflict of interest over the NZ Future Forest Products bid on the day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request asking for details of his involvement.

RNZ: New details revealed over NZ First-linked company and Shane Jones’ office

Shane Jones’ office received official documents about a forestry company’s bid for public money five times over four months, but the New Zealand First minister only declared a conflict of interest on the day RNZ began asking questions.

NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) – whose directors include Winston Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry and Mr Peters’ partner Jan Trotman – made an unsuccessful bid to borrow $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, which Mr Jones is responsible for.

Mr Jones has said he recused himself from the decision-making over the bid because of his long-standing relationship with Mr Henry, who is the judicial officer for NZ First as well as Mr Peters’ lawyer.

Documents provided to RNZ show Mr Jones wrote to the prime minister advising her of his conflict of interests on 14 October – the same day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request with his office.

Mr Jones has told Parliament that he was only “formally” made aware of the NZFFP bid to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.

But answers to written questions lodged by National MP Chris Bishop show Mr Jones’ office was sent documents mentioning NZFFP and its applications to the PGF on five occasions between 17 June and 9 October.

In total, documents relating to NZFFP were sent to Mr Jones’ office on six occasions between 17 June and 13 November – when the bid was turned down – but Mr Jones said he “personally” received only three of them.

The documents sent to Mr Jones’ office included advice from the Provincial Growth Fund’s Independent Advisory Panel, on 10 July, on the NZFFP bid.

Henry was a founding director of NZFPP was the company was incorporated on 27 March 2019. Trotman became a director on 27 August.

He said none of the documents went into detail about the bid nor disclosed the involvement of Brian Henry and his son David Henry, who is also a director of the company.

So why were all the documents sent, three of them ‘personally’ to Jones, without going into detail or disclosing potential conflicts of interest and without going into detail?

In an interview with RNZ today, Mr Jones reiterated that 14 October was the first date he was formally briefed about the proposal.

That’s the same day RNZ asked questions. He was also asked about it in Parliament on 22 November, and repeatedly refused to disclose when he first knew about the bid or the conflict of interest. From Shane Jones avoids answering questions properly in Parliament:

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.

The company had been sending documents to Jones’ office (and three times to Jones personally) since 17 June, but Jones claims not to have become “aware that the company had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund” until 14 October. That claim appears to be misleading or false.

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…

…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…

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…

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…

Jones must have known that David Henry was or may be related to Brian Henry.  RNZ:

In an interview with RNZ today, Mr Jones reiterated that 14 October was the first date he was formally briefed about the proposal.

“I have already said that my office received papers identifying name of the company but I had no idea that that company involved the personalities that apparently are the directors of that company.”

Again at least misleading, he had received an email from one of the directors on 21 September.

Answers to written questions also show that Mr Peters wrote to the prime minister on 14 October, the same day as Mr Jones did, declaring a conflict of interest in relation to the NZFFP bid.

If Trotman didn’t disclose to Peters that she was a director of a company applying for PGF funds she should have.

There were warnings of the risks of cronyism when the PGF was set up with Jones the Minister in charge of dishing out $3 billion.  This application by NZFFP has not helped perceptions of it being some sort of a slush fund

It seems a bit extraordinary Jones and Peters were completely unaware of the involvement of the Henrys and Trotman until the same day RNZ started asking questions, and Jones repeatedly refusing to answer questions about what he knew don’t help perceptions of some sort of impropriety.

I think it’s safe to assume that Jones knew more about this (‘informally’) than he has disclosed, there is  clear implication that’s the case.

And I think it seems negligent of Henry and Trotman not to disclose to Peters or Jones of their involvement in a PGF application. It certainly hasn’t looked good for NZ First.

And it doesn’t help the credibility of the Labour-NZ First coalition Government. The Greens aren’t involved directly, but their silence on this (as far as I’m aware), compared to what one could imagine their reaction would be to anything like this involving National or Act, suggests their standards can be compromised by being in power.

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

That it was declined is immaterial to what happened during the application. Robertson has put himself in a position of appearing to approve of what happened.

Jacinda Ardern has appeared impotent on the behaviour and actions of one of her Ministers, Jones.

This story has been running alongside the revelation that Brian Henry is trustee of a Foundation that appears to be designed to hide donations to NZ First that would normally need to be declared.

Story behind the NZ First whistleblowing (Wine Box 2.0)

The big political story through the week (Stuff claim of the year) was the revelations of questionable handling of donations and finances by NZ First.

The Electoral Commission is investigating to see if anything illegal was done, but it at least appears to push party finance laws to the limit, and is widely seen to be contrary to the spirit of the laws, and stinks of a lack of transparency. This is more of an issue than usual with the amount of money being dished out behind the NZ First initiated Provincial Growth Fund, overseen by NZ First MP Shane Jones.

Journalist Matt Shand reveals some of the background behind the documents – which were provided in a wine box.

Stuff: A wine box, a deep throat and a dumpster – the trail that led to the NZ First donations scandal

Matt Shand broke the biggest political story of the year with explosive revelations about a NZ First slush fund. He talks about the clandestine way in which the documents came into his possession and asks why reporters must go to such lengths to access information which should be publicly available.

The Winebox 2.0 documents, the only proof of the mysterious dealings of the New Zealand First Foundation and the coterie of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters advisors that control it, was mere moments away from becoming papier mache.

It should not be this hard to find out who donated to a political party in New Zealand.

Forgetting the rigmarole of finally getting hard proof, the information should be publicly available. It is beyond a lack of transparency. I feel it is a lack of basic honesty. For Peters the documents potentially betray his voters, the donors who back the party, his candidates, his MPs and democracy.

There are so many people left bloodied on the path behind him that a resistance started to form and say enough is enough. There is a shortage of people in New Zealand willing to stand up when they see a wrong but that attitude is changing and the reveal of these documents, and the reaction of the public to them, should send a strong message to politicians.

I agree. It does look dishonest – again for Winston Peters and donations.

Yes other parties have had issues with how they secretly and shadily they have handled party donations, and National are currently being investigated over an alleged donation scam.

But this story is about NZ First, and threatens the future of the party and potentially the future of the coalition government, so it is  particularly big deal.

Calling the Electoral Commission for some clarity, this indeed, appeared to be a smoking gun. More sources came forward.

The first spin from Peters is that the foundation and party were unconnected and the donation issues were an administrative error. The unconnected foundation paid for the speakers at the party conference, reimbursed MP Clayton Mitchell for travel, made payments to Peter’s partner, Jan Trotman, paid for the NZ First website hosting fees and it was even advertised as a fund as a “means to secure NZ First’s future.”

Two of its trustees are deep in the NZ First Party. The first, Doug Woolerton, is NZ First’s founding party president. The second is Peters’ lawyer, long-time friend, NZ First Judicial Officer, and self-proclaimed “Dark Shadow” of the NZ First Party, Brian Henry. Ironically, it was Henry who helped Peters out during the Winebox enquiry.

There were other links to the NZ First Party. Donors have outed Tauranga-based MP Clayton Mitchell as the man arranging the donations and working to give out its bank number. Donors said they thought money that ended up in the foundation account was meant for the political party.

The second spin was that the foundation gave the party loans. And this is true. It did. Payments were remade. Some loans seem strange. On April 29, 2019 the foundation loaned the NZ First Party 44,923. On April 30 the New Zealand First party paid $44,923 back to the foundation. None of the experts we’ve asked can think of a reason for this.

It should not be this hard to get straight answers.

NZ First has control of the $3 Billion Provincial Growth Fund, which comes under Minister for Regions Shane Jones.

And Jones seems to be another political bully on top of Peters and his ‘dark enforcer’ Brian Henry. who threw around a $30 million defamation threat this week (which on it’s own is a big story).

There was another big story that was overwhelmed by Wine Box 2.0 this week – Jones threatens Auckland Port CEO

Shane Jones threatened Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson in a heated meeting in the Beehive last week as the port launched its own campaign dismissing the New Zealand First-instigated proposal to move it to Whangarei. Dileepa Fonseka has the exclusive.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones warned Auckland’s port boss Tony Gibson at a closed-door meeting last week to stay away from the ports debate.

At a meeting in Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s office last week with POAL CEO, Jones said: “My advice to you as a chief executive is do not put your head in a political noose.”

Jones confirmed his comments in an interview with Newsroom. He said his words were meant as a warning to the CEO not to enter the “political fray” of the ports debate.

Others at the meeting told Newsroom Jones boasted that both he and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters were top political operators and ports CEO Tony Gibson would be making a mistake if he decided to take them on.

Jones said his warnings that the decision to move the port was “as much about politics as it is about economics”. Newsroom spoke to Jones after hearing of the heated meeting from sources within the Government.

“Don’t fudge any words, the leaks that you’ve been given are a reflection of the warning that I gave.”

Jones said now that discussions around the meeting had leaked he considered Gibson a “political combatant”.

“Now I will deal with him, in the time before the election, in a very political way. I love that, that’s the sport I’m paid to engage in.”

It isn’t the ‘sport’ that we the taxpayers pay Jones to engage in. Threats are unbecoming of a Minister, and Jones has been guilty of bullying abuses of power before this.

Shand:

New ports, dredging, slipways, a mussel-processing plant in Marlborough, a $5.7 million grant to protect Manuka honey’s trademark, money to plant trees and all manner of activity are funded by the PGF. Knowing what we do now, about NZ First Foundation donations, there are legitimate questions to be asked about the decision making process.

There are also legitimate questions to be asked about why the law can’t force parties to be more transparent about their wealthy donors.

Because that’s too important to be reliant on a handful of brave whistle blowers doing the right thing.

Far too important.

And it’s too important to tolerate political activists continually trying to disrupt the messages that challenge these abuses of law and power, and divert with tedious whataboutism.

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.

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?

Peters drops leak accusations against Bennett, Tolley

It was obvious that all the Winston Peters accusations and litigation couldn’t stand up. He launched what was clearly a fishing expedition to try to expose the culprit.

Peters, via his lawyer Brian Henry’s closing address in court, has conceded that neither Paula Bennett nor Anne Tolley leaked information about his seven year superannuation overpayments.

Newsroom: Peters accepts National ministers didn’t leak

Winston Peters’ has accepted in the High Court that two former National ministers he had been suing for $450,000 for breaching his privacy were not the source of the leak or responsible for it.

In his closing submission today, Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry said both Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett denied in their evidence leaking information on Peters’ seven-year overpayment of superannuation – and the lawyer for the Ministry of Social Development and public servants did not challenge those denials.

“That left the MSD in the position that they now cannot avoid a finding that the breach was on MSD,” Henry said. “The plaintiff was expecting a challenge from MSD to the ministers, but the MSD has not challenged the evidence that they [the ministers] did not leak.

“That dual denial removed two of the options that the plaintiff, when it opened its case, was expecting to have examined in the court.”

That means Peters is no longer suing the National pair for damages.

This raises questions about Peters’ claims, and the cost he has inflicted on taxpayers to try to justify his accusations.

It also makes Barry Soper’s assertions that it must have been a National leak (with no evidence provided) look a bit silly.

Henry said Peters’ case was that under the tort of privacy he had a reasonable expectation that his private information would not be made public and what was disclosed had been highly offensive.

“In this case, the MSD exclusively held the plaintiff’s private information. Unless they can rebut the evidence there arises an evidential presumption.

“The larger the group [who had become aware in the ministry] the greater the foreseeability the matter would be leaked.

“The perpetrator will never front. Someone in MSD in full knowledge breached the plaintiff’s privacy and set off a chain of communications causing damage to his reputation.”

Henry said: “This is not likely to be a mistake.”

So he now asserts that someone in MSD leaked the information, but as there is no evidence suggests the assumption can be made. I don’t know how proof or lack thereof works in cases like this.

The ‘chain of communications’ led to journalists asking Peters about the overpayment, and Peters then went public himself. There is no certainty that media would have published the information. This is an interesting situation.

MSD lawyers claimed that Peters’ reputation hadn’t been affected by anyone but himself.

It is arguable that if Peters had just admitted making a mistake on his application and not noticing the overpayment, then paying it back when brought to his attention, then this would have blown over and would be virtually forgotten by now.

Instead Peters accused a swath of people for the leak with no evidence to back his claims, made assertions and denials that were inaccurate or wrong, filed legal action against National MPs just prior to going into coalition negotiations with National (I think without revealing the legal filing), and then proceeded with the case over the next two years.

Some have suggested he has simply enhanced negative aspects of his reputation.

There is a serious issue of the revealing of private information held by  Government department. That should have been investigated – although leaks are common and culprits are often not identified.

But the initial information Peters revealed himself, and revelations through the court hearings, have been self damaging more than anything.

As well as damages, Peters wants a declaration from the court that his privacy was breached.

The NZ First leader says it is necessary to have the tort of privacy recognise such a breach because in the digital world “the dissemination of [private] information is now in the hands of irresponsible persons… and politicians are not extremely vulnerable”.

At the end of his submissions, Henry clarified for the judge that Peters was now seeking the $450,000 in damages under his first course of action from all defendants together rather than seeking that sum from each.

That’s an odd switch. Maybe he realised Peters was seeking too much with Bennett and Tolley out of the firing line.

Questioned further by Justice Venning, he said the fact Bennett and Tolley could no longer be accepted as the source of the leaks meant that they could not continue to be included in the cause of action seeking that money. So the damages are sought, together, from Boyle, Hughes and MSD.

In three further causes of action, Peters is seeking declarations from the judge that his privacy was breached by the public servants in briefing their ministers and by the two ministers in accepting those briefings.

A challenge for the judge to address all of that.

A swipe at Kiwiblog fizzled:

Henry disputed a claim by Bruce Gray QC, for the ministers, that there had been no social media reports of Peters’ overpayment presented to the court that had occurred before Peters issued his press release announcing that news.

He pointed to a Kiwiblog posting about the risks for Peters if the overpayment news was correct. However he gave the court the date August 28 for the Kiwiblog comment, and that was actually the day after Peters issued his press release.

Whoops.

The only social media content appearing before Peters went public had been three tweets from the writer of this article about a possible major political story, and the tweets did not mention him, his party, gender, age or superannuation.

The writer had to provide a sworn statement in the earliest part of the proceedings and pointed out that intense speculation on Twitter had followed those tweets but that not one that was connected to his tweets had referred to or even hinted at Peters being involved.

The writer is Tim Murphy who has provided excellent coverage of the hearing.

Earlier, Victoria Casey QC for Hughes, Boyle and the ministry, said Peters’ pleading alleging bad faith by her clients would, if found to be so, be “catastrophic” for the officials. “If established, it would be the end of any career for them in the public service.

“It’s important that Mr Peters is held to his pleadings,” she said.

The bad faith accusation was raised by Peters in his fourth ‘statement in reply’ before the hearing began. “Mr Peters is not entitled to pursue new allegations of bad faith.”

(Henry later told the court he was saying officials had not acted in good faith rather than they had acted in bad faith. That was so those defendants had to disprove his claim rather than Peters having to prove ‘bad faith’.)

Justice Venning has reserved his decision, which he said was unlikely before the end of the year.

I expect he will want to take some time and care in writing his decision. I wonder how close to next year’s election campaign the decision will be released.


A (lawyer) comment from Kiwiblog (typos corrected):

I was astonished to read of Mr Henry’s concession that neither of Anne Tolley or Paula Bennett leaked anything.
If that is the case the claim against them will fail absolutely.

I would anticipate that Mr Gray will ask for judgement for Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett and that there be an order for costs against Mr Peters on an indemnity basis.

Yeah, costs. They could amount to a lot. Peters will be hoping to have costs warded in his favour for his remaining claims, but that my only balance out these costs.

Thinking about it, Peters was hardly likely to succeed in all of his claims, so was always going to be exposed to costs.

Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

Conflicting reports this morning on whether Winston Peters has dropped legal action against the National Party and National MPs.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

NZ First leader Winston Peters has agreed to drop his legal action and pay costs to former National Party leader Bill English and other former ministers over the leak of his superannuation overpayments.

Peters was taking legal action against English, Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley as well as two staff members while trying to uncover who leaked details of his superannuation overpayments to the media before last year’s election.

It is understood Peters has now agreed to withdraw the legal action and pay some of the legal costs for the National Party MPs and staff – believed to be about $10,000.

The National side had said they would take further action on costs if a settlement was not reached.

But Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry has just been on RNZ and has stated that this is incorrect.

He said that the first legal action was over – on behalf of Peters he had sought documents, and as is normal when that happens, costs needed to be paid. he wouldn’t confirm or deny the amount of costs.

The defendants will be identified when the next legal claim is lodged. Bill English, Paula Bennett, Anne Tolley, former ministerial staff Wayne Eagleson and Clark Hennessy, and journalists Lloyd Burr and Tim Murphy were included in the first action.

Henry would only say that action has been dropped against the two journalists. He says that they were never intended to be a part of the eventual legal action.

But he refused to say which of the MPs and staff might be still subject to future legal action.

Henry said no statement of claim has been lodged, and would not say when that was likely to happen – he said that these things take time.