Austrian far right activist donation could be linked to Christchurch terrorist

Austrian authorities have searched the home of a far right activist, saying he received a “disproportionately high donation” from a person with the same surname as the accused Christchurch shooter

Stuff (22 March):  Austria says Christchurch mosque shooting suspect visited there

Authorities in Austria say the alleged Christchurch mosque gunman visited the country, but are declining to provide further details.

Interior Ministry spokesman Christoph Poelzl said an investigation by the BVT domestic intelligence agency is continuing, but “a first result from this is that it can now be confirmed the person in question spent time in Austria.”

Some of the suspect’s anti-Muslim views are echoed by Austria’s far-right Identitarian Movement.

Stuff (27 March):  Austrian activist’s home searched over ‘ties’ to Christchurch mosque shooting suspect

Austrian authorities have searched the home of a prominent far-right activist as part of a probe into his ties to the alleged Christchurch mosque gunman.

The head of the white nationalist group Identitarian Movement of Austria said on social media that police searched his apartment on Monday.

Electronic devices were seized after he received a “disproportionately high donation” from a person with the same surname as the accused Christchurch shooter.

Christoph Poelzl, spokesman for Austria’s Interior Ministry, confirmed Tuesday that the country’s domestic intelligence agency BVT searched the premises in Vienna at the request of prosecutors in the city of Graz.

“Any connection between the Christchurch attacker and members of the Identitarians in Austria needs to be comprehensively and ruthlessly investigated,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted, adding that he had spoken to Justice Minister Josef Moser about the issue.

“It is important that the independent justice system can use all necessary means and resources to conduct its investigation together with the security services and expose these networks. There needs to be total clarity about all extremist activities.”

Hansjoerg Bacher, a spokesman for Graz prosecutors, said they had stumbled across the donation as part of an existing probe into possible financial offences by the Austrian nationalist.

“The purpose of the investigation is to examine links between [the nationalist] and the Christchurch attacker,” Bacher told Associated Press.

He declined to confirm when the donation took place, but said it was much higher than other contributions made to the man or his Identitarian Movement.

“Most donations were in the area of two-to-three figures, whereas this donation was in the low four-figure area,” Bacher told AP. “This made it stand out, and the events in New Zealand put a face to this donation.”

“We need to determine whether there is a connection and if so, whether it’s criminally significant,” said Bacher.

The Austrian man denied having anything to do with the March 15 massacre, in which 50 Muslims were killed.

“I had nothing to do with the attack,” he said in a video statement posted on YouTube, adding that he would donate the money to a charity.

It could just be an awkward link to the Christchurch terrorist.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria.

 

SFO investigating National Party donation

More problems for the National Party and Simon Bridges after a complaint made by ex-National MP Jami-lee Ross to the police has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

This is an investigation, not a finding, but it doesn’t look flash for Bridges or National.

Newsroom: SFO to investigate National donation allegations

The Serious Fraud Office will investigate allegations of electoral donation fraud levelled against the National Party and its leader Simon Bridges by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross.

Ross has claimed vindication over the news, but Bridges has expressed confidence his own hands are clean and called on party officials to fully cooperate with the SFO inquiry.

Police started looking into the allegations after Ross spoke to them last year, but now appear to have elevated the issue into specialist hands.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, police said they had referred a complaint they received last October to the SFO, “in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act”.

“The complaint has been referred to the SFO as they hold the appropriate mandate to look further into matters raised by the investigation to date.”

Police said they could not comment on their own investigation while the SFO was looking into the allegations.

Also from Newsroom: Jami-Lee Ross rides again

The former National MP accused of bullying and cheating during his time in Parliament has written to all his Botany constituents asking not to be judged “on a month where personal and health-related matters became a distraction”.

The Serious Fraud investigation was made public yesterday in a two sentence statement from police:

Ross held a press conference claiming he had been doubted repeatedly but each time in this controversy had proven his critics wrong.

He’s a bit premature there, nothing has been proven about the donation yet.

Green Party donation versus party policy

The Greens have been bequeathed a $350,000 donation, their biggest ever and tens times larger than the limit proposed in their policy.

Green Party policy on donations includes:

Election Financing

  • Initiate a review of the overall operation of campaign finance rules, including rules around donations and spending caps and non-political party election activities
  • Introduce tighter limits on anonymous donations, place an annual limit of $35,000 on total donations from any single person or entity, and introduce a ban on overseas donations

The Greens tend to get smaller donations, but in 2016 the Greens received a donation of  $280,000 from the estate of Elizabeth Riddoch.

Last October Greens urge political donation reform

The Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says New Zealand is open for corruption under the current rules around political donations.

She told Morning Report powerful businesses can gain influence with large donations.

“I think New Zealanders would be quite keen on a conversation on how we get big money out of politics,” she said.

“What we’ve seen around the world is that those with particular interests can have millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of influence on political policy.

“We’ve already seen a $100,000 donation to the National Party being questioned, from someone who is a powerful businessman.

“I want to see equal access and not just big money having undue influence over our political system.”

“New Zealanders are starting to understand we could go down a slippery slope here”.

She said a cap on donations would give Kiwis more confidence in the political system.

But now $350,000 donation to the Greens, from late party member’s estate, the largest to a major political party in almost a decade (NZ Herald)

A $350,000 donation to the Greens in December is the largest single donation to a major political party in almost a decade.

It was also the largest to the Green Party in its 30-year history.

It was made by Betty Harris on December 13 last year. She died in January 2018 and the donation was part of her will.

The Green’s general-secretary Gwen Shaw said the party was very grateful for Harris’ donation.

She had been a party member since 1999.

“She was a lovely woman; never made a fuss but just got on with whatever she thought she could do to improve the world.”

Harris lived in East Auckland and was an active supporter of her local branch, particularly when she was younger, Shaw said.

A bit of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, but money is money, ‘gratefully accepted’, despite being contrary to Green policy.

What if Greens had been successful in placing ‘an annual limit of $35,000 on total donations from any single person or entity’?

In that situation if an amount larger than $35,000 was bequeathed to a party what would happen? If the party couldn’t legally accept it, what would happen to the money? Would the estate have to redistribute it elsewhere?

 

 

McCarten and the intern scheme donor

When Labour’s intern scheme story broke in June it was reported that the scheme had been funded by one large donor.

Stuff: Two on Labour’s intern programme may have broken immigration rules as council member stands down

McCarten’s original plan was to have union funding, but it seems that was not forthcoming.

A big donor did back the plan, but their identity has not been released to the party or to the public.

Little said the party had disclosure obligations, both in terms of donors and spending. The party was dealing with that.

Little said the party had a moral responsibility to look after creditors and suppliers because there was the “potential” for a shortfall in funding raised for the intern scheme.

NZH: Mystery funder behind Labour intern programme – and party doesn’t know who

A mystery backer funded the volunteer scheme for overseas students working on Labour’s campaign – and even Labour does not know who it was or how much was involved.

Matt McCarten, who set up the scheme and ran it under his “Campaign for Change” organisation, told the Herald it was funded by a “private funder” who thought the scheme was a good idea.

McCarten’s confirmation of a “private funder” followed the release of a document obtained by Newshub which showed McCarten expected it to cost at least $150,000 and planned to get $100,000 from the FIRST and Unite unions, as well as seeking contributions from other unions and fundraising.

However, those unions said yesterday they had not put any funding in.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the party would disclose anything it was required to and would ensure third parties did as well. However, the party was still working out what funding there was in place.

At the time this sounded like avoidance from Labour (and it was successful avoidance). It should have been a simple matter of asking McCarten how the scheme had been funded to that stage.

The Herald also quoted Mike Treen, the Unite union’s National Director:

Treen said the union had taken part in the programme and planned to use the interns for a programme to enrol Unite members, but had not provided any direct funding.

No ‘direct funding’ is a curious reference.

David Farrar wrote to the Electoral Commission asking them to investigate the donation and funding. He published their response last week on Kiwiblog:  Electoral Commission rules Campaign for Change counts as Labour candidate donations

The Electoral Commission has investigated the Campaign for Change and made the following determinations:

  1. All funds spent by the Campaign for Change are Labour candidate donations and must be declared in returns after the election
  2. McCarten personally paid for the costs
  3. $65,095 was spent up until Labour formally took over
  4. The Campaign for Change was not a neutral enrolment exercise

McCarten had referred to a ‘private funder’, which clearly implies someone other than himself.

If McCarten was always the funder why did he mislead the public, and also apparently not divulge this to Labour?

This leaves questions unanswered.

Was there a private funder who backed out when the scheme became public and it looked likely the funder would be named as a donor?

Did McCarten donate with his own money? Or was it an indirect donation, with money given to him by ‘a private benefactor’, and then he handed that over to Labour?

Does it matter?

Labour seem finished with their use of McCarten’s services, and so they should be. He was always a high risk to them. McCarten must now surely be seen as politically toxic by any party.

 

Campaign for Change counts as Labour donations

David Farrar has received a letter from the Electoral Commission that says that donations for the controversial Matt McCarten concocted ‘Campaign for Change’ that involved international interns count as candidate donations.

McCarten had claimed the campaign was to be funded by a large donor but he is named as the large donor.

Kiwiblog:  Electoral Commission rules Campaign for Change counts as Labour candidate donations

The Electoral Commission has investigated the Campaign for Change and made the following determinations:

  1. All funds spent by the Campaign for Change are Labour candidate donations and must be declared in returns after the election
  2. McCarten personally paid for the costs
  3. $65,095 was spent up until Labour formally took over
  4. The Campaign for Change was not a neutral enrolment exercise

The letter from the Electoral Commission is on the Kiwiblog post.

No word yet on whether there has been an inquiry in Parliament about McCarten working on a campaign while potentially paid as a staffer.

Private funder for Labour’s intern scheme

Matt McCarten says that the Labour intern scheme had a private funder “who thought the scheme was a good idea”.

NZ Herald: Mystery funder behind Labour intern programme – and party doesn’t know who

A mystery backer funded the volunteer scheme for overseas students working on Labour’s campaign – and even Labour does not know who it was or how much was involved.

Matt McCarten, who set up the scheme and ran it under his “Campaign for Change” organisation, told the Herald it was funded by a “private funder” who thought the scheme was a good idea.

McCarten must have also thought the private funding was a good idea.

He was chief of staff for David Cunliffe and Andrew Little, and ran Labour’s election campaign in Auckland until he quit to balls up the intern scheme last month.

Has he no clue about the requirements of political campaign funding? Or did he think he wouldn’t be found out?

It is understood Labour itself still does not know who that funder is or how much was spent on the programme and it has been left to cover some of the costs of housing the interns at Awataha Marae, although McCarten said he believed the payments were up to date.

This has put Labour in  a very difficult situation, as by association they may end up being responsible for this.

Labour’s General Secretary Andrew Kirton took over the programme this week after concerns about how it was being run and the ability to manage the numbers involved.

He would not comment on the funding issue, saying he was still working on taking care of the interns and “sorting the mess out”.

After that he may have a funding mess to sort out.

Heading into an election campaign this is a terrible diversion for the Labour Party.

Labour will also have to consider whether it needs to declare any contributions to the costs of the programme as a donation.

Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler said it would have to if it was a Labour Party programme, but it probably would not have to if it was a third party campaigning for Labour.

It was advertised as a “Labour Party Fellowship”, involved Labour MPs, and was set up by McCarten while he worked for Labour until May – but was run by his Campaign for Change.

The Campaign for Change change seems to have been a rush job to try to distance the scheme from Labour, but ” third party campaigning” could be very difficult to argue.

Other Labour Party activists and staffers have been names as involved in the scheme.

One could wonder if a more effective sabotage of Labour’s campaign could have been executed, but I think it’s more likely that this was a mix of arrogance and ineptness from McCarten and those directly involved, and a glaring lack of oversight by the Labour Party at best.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the party would disclose anything it was required to and would ensure third parties did as well. However, the party was still working out what funding there was in place.

Awkward.

Interns have given mixed reviews – yesterday one told the Herald that much of the attention had been on the standard of accommodation, but that had not been the problem or the reason Labour officials had to step in. Nor had complaints by individual interns.

“There’s pushback from many who feel it shouldn’t have been shut down so quickly, but I really don’t know how much longer it would have lasted, especially since the whole programme was labelled ‘Labour’, without clear connection to Wellington. It was a ticking time bomb until Wellington found out and shut it down. That’s ultimately why it was shut down – it had Labour’s name all over it, but Wellington had no control over the situation or even knew many details about it.”

So it seems that McCarten was out of control.

Unite’s National Director Mike Treen said the union had taken part in the programme and planned to use the interns for an programme to enrol Unite members, but had not provided any direct funding.

“Matt is ambitious, and where there is a will there is a way is often his attitude. He may have tried to reach too far in this case. We thought there were positives and are a little bit sorry to see it’s all fallen on its face.”

So Treen was also involved. He stood for the Mana Party last election and has links to socialist groups – see  Mana Party and Socialists

It looks like a misconceived attempt at a coup of Labour – see Labour policy coup attempt?

Another NZ First donation controversy

Last week Winston Peters blasted the announcement of New Zealand People’s Party being set up by immigrants. He claimed they were a front for the National Party. But Peters has been busted by NewsHub.

Revealed: Winston Peters in $3k Indian donation controversy

The headline is inaccurate, it wasn’t an ‘Indian donation’, it was made in New Zealand presumably by a new Zealand citizen.

Winston Peters is caught up in a donations controversy after his New Zealand First party took $3000 from the founder of the new immigrant-focused People’s Party.

Newshub can reveal the money was taken after Mr Peters met with Indian businessman Roshan Nauhria over dinner at Auckland’s India Gate restaurant in the days before the 2014 election

On Saturday, Mr Peters told TV3’s The Nation that the People’s Party was “a National Party front”.

“The person that was the spokesperson and the temporary leader for that party just at a recent raffle for fundraising for the National Party offered $20,000 in a bid for the Prime Minister to have breakfast at his place. He got beaten by a bid of $27,000. This is a National Party front,” Mr Peters said.

But Mr Nauria subsequently said he had given a donation to NZ First, accusing Mr Peters of hypocrisy.

Busted. But Peters is denying being involved in receiving the cheque (but hasn’t denied NZ First receiving it).

Asked about Mr Nauhria’s donation, Mr Peters initial response was to say: “Okay well, if that’s the case he’ll show you a receipt won’t he? Has he shown you the receipt?

The number one thing you need to do is show me the evidence not just come along and repeat an allegation and think you are going to slide past it like that – that won’t do.”

It’s worth repeating “The number one thing you need to do is show me the evidence not just come along and repeat an allegation and think you are going to slide past it like that” – that’s the sort of thing that Peters has often done. Except that he often fails to produce evidence, while Newshub have a copy of the cheque.

However, Mr Peters did not deny a donation was given, saying: “he may have given it to somebody else at the meeting and I have been to the restaurant, that’s true, and a group of Indian people wanted to talk to me, that’s a fact, but as for anything else – that would be in the knowledge of someone else but not me.”

Even if Nauhria is not correct in saying he gave the cheque personally to Peters (Peters has been found out in the past on fibbing about a donation from own Glenn) this is a bit awkward for Peters and for NZ First.

WinstonDonationNewshub

He wasn’t a happy looking chap.

Scoop membership drive

The Scoop Foundation is doing a membership drive, possibly timed to try and take advantage of the uncertainty over the future of journalism in New Zealand with the merger talks going on between Fairfax and NZME.

Journalism: A New Model – The 2016 Scoop Foundation Membership Drive

The Scoop Foundation is seeking public support to safeguard the future of public interest journalism in New Zealand.

To ensure public access to comprehensive, free, timely news is maintained during this dark hour for journalism. And to provide every voice in NZ the opportunity to be heard in the national debate.

You can donate at Pledge Me: The Scoop Foundation : the best chance to create an independent guardian for public interest journalism in NZ

In the first half of 2016 news organisations everywhere were forced to take drastic measures to stay alive.

In March The Independent in the United Kingdom ceased publication of its print edition. It was a harbinger of a deepening global news crisis.

This week here in NZ the two largest news organisations have proposed a merger as their Australian owners simultaneously announce their intention to exit the NZ market. Massive journalism job losses now loom over an already battered profession. Even the UK Guardian, one of the world’s largest digital publishers has had to announce layoffs.

With your support over the past 18 months Scoop has against enormous odds managed to create a new kind of news organisation, one based on a new model for funding journalism, not dependent on advertising, which offers the prospect of providing a long term sustainable platform to support the growth of a new generation of independent news publishers.

Everybody is invited to be part of this new future for news.

Thinking about Scoop I use them occasionally when I’m looking for media releases but don’t think of going there for news or for journalism. Ironically I see them as repeaters, not reporters.

Maybe I should check their New Zealand Politics summary page.

 

“Dangerous territory for Little”

Andrew Little’s insinuations of impropriety that implicate the Scenic Hotels company and Niue resort trust and board members have ventured into dangerous territory according to Tracey Watkins in Smoke and fire or smoke and mirrors?

Little is right when he says that it is his role as Opposition leader to ask questions when a big political donor is awarded Government contracts.

But suggesting it “stinks to high heaven” takes things to a different level.

Even if there hadn’t been a number of steps between the minister and the decision to award the contract, Little’s claim appears to rest on the assumption that everyone involved in the process – from senior diplomats, to government agencies and senior politicians – was either swayed by the donation, or leaned on by the minister.

In the absence of a whistle blower, or any documentation, leaked emails or other evidence so far to support that view, that’s a pretty serious accusation. Seemingly, it relies solely on the fact that Hagaman donated money to the National Party.

This is dangerous territory for Little.

Directly getting involved in dirty politics – making serious insinuations but having little or no evidence of impropriety – might have been standard tactics for a blogger but is dangerous territory for a major party leader.

Political donations are a murky area and it is easy to score quick political hits off those who make them. The number of donors appearing in the yearly list of knights and dames makes most of us cynical about both regimes. So too the number of corporates who regularly show up as political donors. People would more likely believe in the tooth fairy than think you can get something for nothing, particularly from politicians. So suspicion, particularly about policies benefiting party donors, is healthy.

For sure.

But our donations regime is at least more transparent than it once was. If anything, the Hagaman donation proves the disclosure regime is working as intended.

Little hasn’t revealed any political secrets, he has pointed out two publicly known dots and suggested they are joined.

So Little was right to ask the question but wrong to leap to judgement before the Auditor General decides even whether to take a look.

If every big donation is going to be decried as dodgy there seem to be only two alternatives – either barring donors from tendering for Government contracts, which is probably unworkable, or a fully state funded regime, which is where the first option ultimately leads anyway, given the inevitable drying up of campaign funds.

But State funding opens a whole other can of worms, one that comes at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers.

It’s also just as likely to become a football and just as open to abuse.

Anyone who doubts that should cast their mind back to the Labour pledge card scandal of a few years back.

Which is the other problem with where Little may be going.

The public’s suspicion about wealthy donors is probably only rivalled by their scepticism over politicians putting their hands out for more money.

So what were the reasons for Little’s attack?

Was it an attempt to scare donors away from  National?

Is it a sign that Labour are struggling to get donations from companies so don’t care about scaring them off political donations?

Or was it just an attempted political hit job? To try and plant seeds of bad political perceptions? Or a gamble, hoping that something might be flushed out of the woodwork?

Scenic Hotel company versus Andrew Little

Founders of Scenic Hotel Group, Earl and Lani Hagaman, say they would welcome an Auditor General investigation into allegations and insinuations made by Andrew Little, and they are considering legal action Little’s comments.

NZ Herald: Scenic Group founders consider legal action

The $101,000 donation was made on 18 September, the last week of the election campaign in 2014. A month later Scenic Hotels won a contract to manage the Matavai Hotel on Niue, which is owned by a trust appointed by Foreign Minister Murray McCully on behalf of the Niue Government.

Mr Little said the timing “stinks to high heaven” and wrote to the Auditor General last week asking for an investigation into the donation and the handling of the contract, which was signed between Scenic Hotel Group and the hotel board in October 2014.

The Auditor General is yet to decide whether to investigate but in a statement, the Hagamans said they would welcome an investigation from the Auditor General and would cooperate fully.

“In fact we request that an investigation occurs urgently in order to remove any doubt about the integrity and honesty of our name,” said Mrs Hagaman.

Lani Hagaman said the management contract for Matavai Resort Niue was gained by Scenic Hotel Group in an open and contestable process against other hotel groups.

Mrs Hagaman said it was a “political beat-up” by Mr Little.

“We are not interested in being Mr Little’s political football. These nasty and unfounded allegations need to stop and I would urge Andrew Little to stop wasting tax payer money on trying to promote his own political party and ego.”

This is a fairly predictable response to Little’s attack.

His insinuations suggested collusion between the National Party, Murray McCully, Scenic Hotels and the board members of the Niue Tourism Property Trust (including Jacinda Ardern’s father, ex policeman and New Zealand High Commissioner to Niue) in the awarding of a contract.

Ian Fitzgerald, the chairman of the Matavai Niue Limited which runs the Matavai has also now spoken, saying he would have “absolutely no concerns” if the Auditor-General looked into the process.

Mr Fitzgerald is one of four board members appointed by the Niue Tourism Property Trust to oversee the running of the hotel, which $18 million of New Zealand aid money has been invested in. The agreement was negotiated and signed between Scenic Hotels and the board rather than the Trust itself. Mr Fitzgerald said he was unaware Mr Hagaman had donated to the National Party and the board had only dealt with Scenic Hotels Group’s managing director, Brendan Taylor. It was in contract negotiations with Scenic Group for six months before the contract was awarded – well before the donation was made.

This confirms some obvious timing issues with Little’s claim – a one month timeframe from donation to awarding of the contract, suggested as a coincidence of concern, seemed far too short to have credibility.

In a statement, Mr Little said he was pleased the Hagamans would fully cooperate with an investigation. “The public deserves full transparency on this issue given National’s largest financial donor gave the party $100,000 during a tender process, then a month later his company was awarded a major government contract. The public must have confidence that the process led by Murray McCully was above board.”

Little is still digging – digging at McCully and digging a dirty politics hole.

If the Auditor General decides to investigate and finds impropriety in the awarding of the contract then there could be serious repercussions for McCully, who has signalled his exit from politics next year anyway.

If no problem is found this will not look good for Little, at a time that his credibility as a potential Prime Minister may come under increasing scrutiny and pressure.

Little has provided no evidence of impropriety, he has just made very strong insinuations in saying the timing “stinks to high heaven”.

Winston Peters gets away with this sort of dirty politics quite often but it is remarkable for a Labour leader to directly involve themselves in an attack like this.

This was a very risky move by Little, following an attack on tax expert John Shewan last week. It could be make or break for his leadership and possibly for his political career.