Drip feed continues on NZ First Foundation donations

The media drip feed continues as more details have been published about donations to the NZ First Foundation.

Yesterday RNZ: Concerns over secret fisheries donations to NZ First Foundation

One of the country’s biggest fishing companies, Talley’s, and its managing director donated nearly $27,000 to the New Zealand First Foundation, which has been bankrolling the New Zealand First Party.

The foundation received $26,950 from seafood giant Talley’s and from managing director Sir Peter Talley between 2017 and 2019, according to records viewed by RNZ.

It received the money from Talley’s in four amounts – all of which were below the threshold for public disclosure and so have not been publicly revealed until now.

Greenpeace was concerned by the donations and believed the New Zealand First Party had too much sway over fishing policy and the party was too close to the industry.

These don’t seem big amounts or a big deal, nor a surprise. I think Talleys and the fishing industry have are well known to have supported NZ First. The difference here is that donations are allegedly being hidden by channelling them via the Foundation rather than to the party where public declarations are required.

Today at Stuff:  Billionaires among the full list of donors supporting NZ First

A raft of multimillionaire rich-listers are among the funders of Winston Peters’ NZ First party, donating large and undisclosed sums to a slush fund now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

Stuff can reveal a longer list of donors to the NZ First Foundation up to April 2019 – which appears to operate as a political slush fund – based on Foundation documents seen by Stuff. It includes New Zealand’s richest man, Graeme Hart, and the billion-dollar Spencer family.

Business magnates, property developers, a chicken farmer, and thoroughbred horse breeders are among the wealthy known to have contributed heavily to the foundation, which tallied more than $500,000 in donations.

There is no suggestion the donors have done anything wrong or acted illegally.

Former NZ First MP Doug Woolerton, a trustee of the NZ First Foundation and a government lobbyist, told the Politik website last year that the party has “always thought [its] constituency was the guy who owns the shop, the guy who fixes the tractors”.

“It’s not the farmers. It’s the people who service the farmers who do the grunt work day to day,” he said.

But the donations show NZ First retains the support of some of New Zealand’s business elite and wealthiest individuals.

A WORKING-CLASS PARTY

Despite gathering financial support from New Zealand’s lofty elite, NZ First maintains it is the party dedicated to meeting the needs of working-class Kiwis.

Newshub yesterday: Shane Jones concerned New Zealand First donors will be put-off in election year

Shane Jones is concerned about donors to New Zealand First being “depicted as some type of leper” as new revelations emerge about donations to the New Zealand First Foundation.

The NZ First MP said he is “genuinely not aware” of the functioning of the NZ First Foundation, which is currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over allegations it’s been hiding donations for the party.

Jones said he’s worried about a “clear agenda” designed to “spook and quite frankly stigmatise industries” that New Zealand First relies on for support as a political party.

There may be a bit of that, but politicians under scrutiny often claim to be the victims of agendas. Winston Peters has often claimed to be a victim of the media and other things.

But none of this would have happened if NZ First hadn’t use a Foundation to, apparently, hide donations.

The Electoral Commission announced earlier this month that following an investigation it found the NZ First Foundation had “received donations which should have been treated as party donations for the New Zealand First Party”.

The Electoral Commission referred the matter to police who then referred it to the SFO which confirmed this month that an investigation had been launched.

Jones, a Cabinet minister, said he “accepts that there is a statutory process in place”.

He told Newshub: “I genuinely feel as an MP that people who think that I represent a force for good in New Zealand politics and the economy… I’m very concerned that they may be depicted as some type of leper.”

Jones does have a history of involvement in the fisheries sector, having chaired Te Ohu Kaimoana – the Māori Fisheries Commission – and seafood company Sealord.

The Minister for Regional Economic Development said he has nothing to hide, pointing to a donation he received from Talley’s in 2017 for $10,000 which was declared in his electorate candidate donation expenses form.

“It’s a matter of public record that over the course of various elections I have received donations from the fishing industry,” Jones told Newshub.

“My role of advocacy for fishing, the red meat industry, for the mining industry – it’s an open book… I will never shirk or shy away from standing up for industry.”

It is unclear how much NZ First MPs knew about the Foundation.  Even Peters claimed to know nothing about it, but his story keeps changing, he also claims to know everything the Foundation didn’t do.

There have been suggestions that the Foundation effectively managed party finances and donations without the party officials being involved at all. Some officials have resigned over it, and may be the source of the information being revealed.

It seems unlikely the SFO case will get to court before the election. There’s even doubt whether they will announce whether they will prosecute, they are currently just investigating.

It has been claimed that the Foundation paid expenses on behalf of the Party. Somme of those details could be interesting.

Three people want name suppression lifted, two don’t

Three of the four people charged by the SFO over donations to the National party want their identities revealed. That means one doesn’t.

And the Labour youth camp assaulter wants his identity kept secret, although the judge has hinted that suppression may end after the election.

NZ Herald: National Party donations accused want suppression lifted

Three of four men facing Serious Fraud Office charges over two $100,000 donations to the National Party have applied for a judge to lift their name suppression.

The change of heart comes after the men brought an urgent application for suppression on January 31, just two days after the SFO filed charges against the group.

Judge Eddie Paul granted all four temporary secrecy and said in his judgment the hearing was rushed through after 5pm in the Auckland District Court after journalists indicated they would identify the accused in the next 24 hours.

“It seems to me the Criminal Procedure Act anticipates that there is some restraint exercised by the media until the first appearance so that the proper exercise of defendant’s rights can be exercised. Publication now would, in my view, abrogate those rights and that simply cannot be permitted.”

However, three of the men have today asked a judge to revoke the order, according to a public relations firm hired by the trio.

“Three of the four defendants appearing in court next week following a Serious Fraud Office investigation into National Party donations have applied to have the name suppression orders associated with the case lifted,” a statement by Pead PR reads.

“Legal counsel for the three defendants confirmed the application is before the Auckland District Court and is currently being considered by a judge.”

Obviously that leaves one still wanting to remain unidentified. One could presume that’s the one charged with supplying false information to the SFO but that’s not necessarily so.

The Labour youth camp assault is back in court over ongoing name suppression.

NZ Herald: Young man fights for secrecy in Labour Party summer camp scandal

A young man who pleaded guilty to assaulting two others at a drunken Labour Party summer camp argues his identity should be kept forever hidden.

The High Court judge considering the appeal has also contemplated suppressing his name until after this year’s general election as the case is kicked about like a political football.

Suppression dependant on an election is a bit concerning.

The now 22-year-old was discharged without conviction but also declined permanent name suppression by Judge Russell Collins at his sentencing last November.

His lawyer Emma Priest today appealed the decision in the High Court at Auckland before Justice Christian Whata.

Priest said there had been “extreme media” coverage of the case, and the trial was “highly politicised”.

During last year’s trial, the young man reached a deal with prosecutors after facing five charges of indecent assault, which related to four people: two men and two women.

He pleaded guilty to two amended charges of assault under the Summary Offences Act for the events at the young Labour event near Waihi in February 2018.

The assault charges were for the allegations against the two men. The charges against the two women were dismissed.

But victims aren’t happy.

After the sentencing, one of the victims was interviewed by Newstalk ZB, which Priest said today was not a “fair statement of what happened in the court”.

In the interview, the victim said the case had became a political football.

“If I’ve gone through this without justice, what about everyone else that goes through the system?” he said.

“I would have liked for him to actually have been given a consequence that reflects his behaviour.”

But I’d be surprised if a suppression decision can be based on charges that were withdrawn.

But Priest said her client did not want to engage in defamation proceedings or go to the Media Council.

“He just wants it all to go away.”

Most people who have been in court due to illegal actions would like it all to ‘go away”.

However, Justice Whata told Priest: “What you’re asking the court to do is suppress something that is highly topical.

“Actually, that’s why we have freedom of speech.”

He said public discussion of the case might be deemed as unfair to the offender but could also be seen to be unfair to the complainants.

Justice Whata said he was conscious there should not be any perceived special treatment for anyone in political parties.

He contemplated continuing suppression until after this year’s election.

“We’ve got an election coming up, and dollars to doughnuts this will be all over that and his face associated with it.”

Justice Whata reserved his decision on suppression and said he couldn’t promise a result in the near future as he “gave it careful consideration”.

Sounds like the judge is tending towards lifting suppression, but is inclined towards kicking the can down the road for a while, possibly until after the election.

But this could have an effect on suppression in the above donations case, where I think it is important that everything is out in the open.

 

SFO charges involve two $100k National donations

Newsroom: Not one, but two $100k donations to National in court

Court charging documents released to the media by order of Auckland District Court Judge Edwin Paul today show that three of the four defendants – whose names are suppressed ahead of a hearing next week – each face two joint charges of deception over a sum of $100,000 donated to National in 2017 and $100,050 donated to the party in 2018. The maximum penalty if convicted on the charge is seven years’ imprisonment.

The fourth person is charged jointly with the others only over the second $100,050 donation – but also faces one charge of providing misleading information to the SFO.

The SFO’s wording for the joint deception charges says: “By deception or without claim of right directly or indirectly obtained for the National Party possession of, or control over, any property, namely a $100,050 [for the 2018 charge] donation made to the National Party between June 1, 2018 and June 8, 2018 (“the 2018 donation”) in circumstances where the identity of the donor was not disclosed in the National Party’s Annual Return of Party Donations.”

The SFO describes the offending over the donations in these words: “The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem whereby the … donation was split into sums of money less than $15,000 and transferred into bank accounts of eight different people before being paid to, and retained by, the National Party.”

For the fourth person’s charge of misleading the SFO, the charging document says: “In the course of complying with a requirement … of the Serious Fraud Act 1990 supplied information knowing it was false or misleading in a material particular.”

The SFO says of that charge that this defendant told investigators a $100,000 sum transferred to their account was a deposit for a building on another person’s property – when the money had been intended as a donation to the National Party. Further, in 2019 the defendant created, signed and back-dated a contract to that end, when no real contract for that work existed. The office alleges the made-up contract copied wording from an unrelated contract.

While none of the four charged are directly connected to the National Party (according to National), and it’s possible National are innocent recipients of the donations, at best this still doesn’t look good for National, and could still get much worse.

Will National pay both donations back? If so that will drain their coffers somewhat.

Will political foxes reform electoral and transparency laws?

Two SFO investigations into party donations, and multiple failures to fulfil openness and transparency pledges, suggests that our political parties and MPs need better laws to make them comply with more honesty and openness. The problem is, the political foxes make the laws to limit themselves – and then find ways to circumvent and ignore.

How political donations are disclosed, plus the Official Information Act are two things that need revised. There is no chance of that happening before the election, but will something be done by the next Government (and hopefully with the support of the whole parliament)?

ODT editorial: Keeping their noses clean

On Monday, the SFO, already with its hands full dealing with complaints about National Party funding arrangements which have resulted in four people facing charges (but not the party itself), had the Electoral Commission file on the New Zealand First Foundation passed on to it by the police for further investigation.

While it is difficult to paint a rosy picture of a situation where two of the country’s major political parties have found themselves under investigation, there is something heartening about this.

Politicians like to quote Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which regularly places New Zealand high in its rankings of the least corrupt countries in the world.

It is because investigations such as the ones the SFO have undertaken are permitted, because public scrutiny of political donations is expected and the highest amounts are disclosed publicly, because political parties are obliged to disclose their expenses, that New Zealand can maintain this reputation.

And because party officials with consciences are prepared to whistleblow on questionable practices?

But that does not mean that all is well.

It obviously isn’t.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested a full independent look at political donation laws, which would be a beginning but only a beginning.

Every general election is subject to a subsequent select committee inquiry, but the assessment of the 2017 election was rendered somewhat farcical by constant delays and wholesale politicisation of the process.

Unfortunately politicisation and delays are ways that politicians avoid anything being done to curb their excesses.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who assigns projects to what is an independent crown entity, might consider electoral law as something the commission, or another equally as high-powered independent legal committee, could profitably examine.

This election is already tainted with allegations of wrongdoing before the campaign officially begins, no matter how many Facebook transparency agreements political parties sign up to.

To better serve the voters they seek to represent, politicians need to rise above their partisan divide and work towards a suite of electoral laws for 2023.

But will the foxes do anything to guard the political henhouse? Or will they continue to flout the intent of the current laws, and what the electorate expects of them?

A start would be to get each party to commit to doing something in the next term – but that will only work if the follow up and actually do what they promise.

 

NZ First referred to police/Serious Fraud Office

It is unclear who exactly is in the firing line (people-wise), but the the Electoral Commission has referred the party donation arrangements involving the NZ First Foundation to the police, who immediately passed the matter on to the Serious Fraud Office.

Winston Peters has rfesponded saying the party would review it’s donation arrangements.

Electoral Commission: Statement on donations enquiries

The Electoral Commission has made enquiries into issues raised regarding the New Zealand First Party and the New Zealand First Foundation and their compliance with the requirements for donations and loans.

Based on the information available, we have formed the view that the New Zealand First Foundation has received donations which should have been treated as party donations for the New Zealand First Party. In the Commission’s view, the donations were not properly transmitted to the Party and not disclosed as required by the Electoral Act 1993.

The Commission does not have the investigative powers to form a view about whether this failure to transmit and the non-disclosure means offences have been committed. These matters have therefore been referred to the New Zealand Police, which have the necessary powers to investigate the knowledge and intent of those involved in fundraising, donating, and reporting donations.

The Police immediately handed the matter on to the Serious Fraud Office.

Andrew Geddis (The Spinoff):  The NZ First donations investigation had to happen. And ignorance is no excuse

Let me start by saying that I am not in the least surprised by this development. Not. In. The. Least.

Contrary to Winston Peter’s assertions to the contrary, I know evidence when I see it. And the documentary material that Guyon Espiner shared with me for his RNZ stories here and here revealed something very unusual taking place.

In short, the material appeared to show people with involvement in running the NZ First Party accepting donations intended to help that party, banking them into a “New Zealand First Foundation” account separate from the party proper, then using that money to pay for party costs. But because those donations hadn’t made it into the NZ First Party’s account, the NZ First party secretary hadn’t reported them to the Electoral Commission.

If the donations to the NZ First Foundation are party donations (as the commission thinks), then the Electoral Act required that they be “transmitted” (i.e. handed over) to the NZ First Party’s secretary. This apparently never happened; indeed, the party secretary publicly has sought to disassociate herself from the foundation’s activities.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the secretary is off the hook. Because, if the money paid into the NZ First Foundation’s account are party donations, then they ought to have been disclosed to the Electoral Commission. And as they weren’t, then the party secretary is responsible for that failure unless she can prove she didn’t mean hide the facts and “took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure that the information … was accurate.”

RNZ: Donations made to NZ First Foundation referred to police for investigation

When asked if this would have any bearing on the governing relationship between New Zealand First and Labour, Ardern said the matter had only just been referred to the SFO, and she intended to let them do their job.

“I will not pass judgement on whether or not an offence has occurred, or if it has, who may be responsible.”

She said she had been consistent when “another political party” had been under investigation.

“I let them do their job, and nor have I cast judgment on that process.”

NZ First reaction:

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters said the party would review its arrangements for party donations in light of the Electoral Commission’s decision.

“I had already advised the party last week to take this course of action and itself refer the matter to the police, which the party had agreed to do.

“This does not imply any impropriety but is intended to ensure the party, as with all parties, have robust arrangements.

“If the review deems it necessary for New Zealand First and all parties to develop new arrangements to receive donations the party will consult with the Electoral Commission”.

“I am advised that in all its dealings the Foundation sought outside legal advice and does not believe it has breached the Electoral Act.

“At this stage the SFO will consider if an offence has been committed, or otherwise, and it is not appropriate to make any comment on specific detail that prejudges their investigation”.

This is likely to take some time for the SFO to come back with a decision on whether to prosecute.

Probably not coincidentally just prior to this Peters said that they would be referring the leak of information (calling it theft) to the police. It looks more like whistle blowing, especially in light of the referral to the SFO.

Peters made a joke of the referral to the SFO of National party donations, but he is unlikely to be laughing now.

SFO charges four in National Party donations case

Issued by the Serious Fraud office:  SFO files charges in National Party donations case

Published 

The Serious Fraud Office filed criminal charges today against four people in relation to donations paid into a National Party electorate bank account.

The defendants are scheduled to appear in the Auckland District Court on 25 February.

The SFO will not make any further comment until any name suppression issues have been dealt with.

Statement from National Party and National Party Leader Simon Bridges:

As expected neither National Party Leader Simon Bridges, nor the National Party have been charged following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

“I have always maintained I had nothing to do with the donations. As I have always said the allegations against both myself and the Party were baseless and false,” National Party Leader Simon Bridges says.

“This was always just a vendetta by a disgruntled former MP.”

“I have always been confident in the way the Party receives and declares donations,” General Manager Greg Hamilton says.

“We are happy to put this matter behind us and will not be making any other comment.”

Law Professor Andrew Geddis (The Spinoff) – A political donations powderkeg: on SFO criminal charges and the National Party

First of all, we don’t know what specific charges have been filed, nor against whom. The SFO won’t say, because when the accused appear in court on February 25 they may well seek name suppression. Naming them before they get the chance to do so would render such an application moot, and the SFO doesn’t really want to do the court’s job for it.

We do know that neither the National Party leader, Simon Bridges, nor its secretary, Greg Hamilton, have been charged as they have told us so. Hearing that didn’t surprise me…

For Bridges to be charged, he pretty much would have to had explicitly told donors something like, “I want you to give my party this money in this illegal way.” Now, much as I know that plenty of inner-city, kombucha drinking liberal types like to hate on our Simon, no political party leader would be that stupid. Not even Simon Bridges.

And the National Party secretary’s legal responsibility really amounts to little more than receiving and recording donations, before passing on limited information about those donations to the Electoral Commission. When doing so, he’s entitled to simply rely on what he’s told by donors to the party without having to try and independently verify that it is the truth. Having met those minimal requirements under the law, he’s then in the clear.

Beyond saying the above regarding who hasn’t been charged with what, further speculation as to who then is left on the potential hook could result in defamation lawsuits – as well as being very unfair to innocent parties. And so there I shall forbear to tread.

There have been media reports on this, with speculation about who the charged people may be.

It seems that a journalist named one of those charged, which seems risky given the SFO warning about name suppression. David Farrar, who earlier had said…

Name suppression is not automatic. A judge has to order it (unless minors etc). Most media don’t report a name prior to a decision on name suppression but AFAIK this is convention not law

…appears to have posted on this at Kiwiblog, but later took the post down “Because I was asked to”.

WARNING: Don’t make any attempt to name any of those charged. If anyone tries this, including trying to be ‘clever’ (dumb) with hints or insinuations, you will lose the privilege to comment freely here.

Foreign donations bill passes after ugly debate, more ugliness likely

Party donations are still in the spotlight due to the passing of  foreign donations bill under urgency. The debate has been ugly.

RNZ: Dirty laundry aired as foreign political donations bill passes third reading in Parliament

A bill cracking down on foreign political donations has passed its third reading in parliament, with MPs using it as an opportunity to air the dirty laundry of other parties.

National used this morning’s debate on the bill to highlight questions around New Zealand First and the party’s foundation, and its handling of donations.

MP Gerry Brownlee questioned why the government had introduced a bill for anonymous foreign donations, rather than for a much bigger issue.

“We are ignoring the fact there is a massive loophole here available and used so far by New Zealand First and available to others, to avoid the scrutiny of where the money comes from,” he said.

MP Nick Smith told Parliament foundations and societies should be included in the the law change.

“We should not put up with the farce of New Zealand First having a foundation that collected over half a million dollars of secret donations,” he said.

Mr Smith also took a swipe at the Greens.

“How is it possible that the Green Party has championed banning foreign donations for the last five years, but has got 50 times more foreign donations according to the regulatory impact statement than any other party?”he said.

But Minister of Justice Andrew Little didn’t let National’s attacks go unanswered.

“There is only one party in this Parliament that is currently the subject of a serious fraud office investigation, it happens to be the National Party,” Mr Little said.

“There is only one party, who in their returns in the 2017 general election showed an extraordinary number of donations to candidates from their head office and that is the National Party,” he said.

The bill just passed will have little effect on donations, apart from giving party secretaries a lot more work to do checking smaller donations (above $50) to assure themselves they aren’t from foreign donors.

But it has stirred up the whole issue about party donations.

One of the biggest stirrers was Winston Peters, who ironically accuses others of hypocrisy and lying, but himself making unsubstantiated accusations under the protection of parliamentary privilege. His speech on the bill started:

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): I decided to make a speech here this morning because I’ve sat in my office and other committee meetings, hearing these attacks on a party called New Zealand First from the biggest bunch of you-know-whats this Parliament has ever seen.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Answer the question, Mr Smith. I’ll answer the question. That’s a man who told Parliament that he’d made a declaration to the Parliamentary Commissioner, excepting when I asked the Parliamentary Commissioner, she wrote to me and said he did not. So, in short, did he tell the truth to Parliament? No, he didn’t.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): Order! I really don’t—I think that is against Standing Orders—

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What is?

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): To accuse a member of deliberately misleading.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I didn’t say that, did I? That’s your inference from my conclusion in my speech. I said, “except Margaret Bazley told me that he didn’t.” Now you infer from that he’s a liar. Go right ahead, but I didn’t say it.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): Well, I’m sorry, but just a minute. I am dealing with my concern about the comment you made following that, which then accused Dr Smith of telling an untruth.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Read the Hansard.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): Well, I don’t have to because—

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, you do.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): —I’m the Speaker.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: You’ve got to provide evidence like everybody else. You’re not a law unto yourself here.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): Excuse me. Excuse me. Actually, I am in the Chair and I’m trying to deal with this. I would ask you to withdraw and apologise because you have made an unparliamentary accusation against a member.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Madam Chairperson, I want to know what the accusation was that I’m meant to be apologising for.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): I’ve explained that to you.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, no—you haven’t, madam. You’ve made the claim, but you haven’t provided the evidence, and you, in your position, are required to do that.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): I am not. I am asking the member to withdraw and apologise.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I withdraw and apologise.

Bickering continued. Later:

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No—of course I don’t like it. I don’t like people with a capital “H” as their major feature of their character. The people who are screaming out over there evince that.

Last night, there was a speech made in this Parliament that should have made the headlines all around this country. It was about a political party—and I want to know how this Part 1 is going to catch this sort of behaviour—that went offshore and raised $150,000. Just one donation—one donation—$150,000. All the emails and all the texts and everything associated with that arrangement were offered to this Parliament, but not one of those people over there, acting as though they’re as pure as the driven snow, asked for a shred of evidence. You know why? Because they’re as guilty as sin, and they’re not going to win getting away with the kind of behaviour they thought to get away with.

You can look as cross-eyed as you like, Mr Penk, but you’re not going to win here. The fact is he was the one that shouted out last night. He shouted to Jami-Lee Ross. He said, “But you did it.” See? There he was, a colleague of the very guy that did it, and he’s shouting out “But you did it.”, as though, somehow, that sort of behaviour, or that sort of comment, exonerates their attempt to get around, in the most devious way, the law of this country.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Tell us about your foundation.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I’m very happy to tell us about the foundation, because it’s based on the National Party’s foundation. Isn’t it amazing? It’s based on the National Party’s foundation. Oh no—these people are so born to rule—

More irony from Peters, who seems to think he deserves to rule in his later life at least. More bickering. Finally:

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Speaking to the bill in Part 1, the reality is that all these matters should be transparent within the law. Can I say, with respect to the last question from over the other side there, in respect of New Zealand First, this matter is being examined by the very authorities qualified to do so. But they don’t include the biased media, and they don’t include the biased, prejudiced, and deceitful members of the Opposition. Simply this: it won’t stop there, of course, because I’ve got senior National Party members contacting New Zealand First saying, “Why on earth did they start this attack, because it’s going to rebound on us.”

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): Could we talk about the bill?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yeah, well, I want to know—if we speak to Part 1—how does the Minister feel about that? Is there going to be some sunlight—is there going to be the disinfectant of truth—shone on a certain political party that has had for years in excess of $100 million never disclosed ever. They have the gall and the audacity to rise in this Parliament and condemn by attempts by innuendo and slight a party that has behaved within the law and will be proven to be so. We are the ones who are volunteering to the Electoral Commission the information. We’re not asked for it. No, no—we’re volunteering it. But here comes the rub: you’re next, Mr Brownlee.

A hundred million dollar accusation with no substance, as is typical of Peters. Just after saying “So, in short, did he tell the truth to Parliament? No, he didn’t.”

With this sort of carry on (with donations and in Parliament) it’s no wonder the public has a very poor view of parties and politics.


The Greens have supported rushing this bill through under urgency, which seems contrary to their principles on proper democratic processes.

The Beehive announcement on the bill:

The Bill also introduces a new requirement that party secretaries and candidates must take reasonable steps to ensure that a donation, or a contribution to a donation over the $50 foreign donation threshold, is not from an overseas person. The Electoral Commission will issue guidance on what ‘reasonable steps they might take to check the origin of the donations.

I wonder if this is a bit of an own goal for the Greens. They rely on a lot of smaller donations solicited online. They may now have a lot more work to do ensuring that dominations they receive are not from “an overseas person”. They provided political backing for the bill, but it could add substantially to party administration. Same for labour (and all parties).


More on donations from NZH: Former NZ First officials want private hearing on donations with justice committee

The former president and treasurer of the New Zealand First Party, Lester Gray and Colin Forster, want to appear before the justice committee to reveal what they know about the party’s donations.

“We want to shed some light on the inappropriate internal workings of the party that seemingly aren’t monitored or controlled by electoral law,” the pair said in a joint letter to the committee.

“Our major concern is that the party affairs have effectively been taken over by the caucus [despite] public comments saying the opposite.”

The justice committee will tomorrow decide whether to allow them to appear or not.

“The committee needs to be aware that we face substantial legal and personal threats should we make public statements on these issues,” the letter says.

NZ First lawyer and Foundation trustee Brian Henry made a multi-million dollar legal threat against Nick Smith and National last week.

It said the committee’s inquiry into the 2017 election would be a “safe place for us to disclose our knowledge of what has taken place.”

“We are happy to make our submission to a closed committee without New Zealand First officials present and will make ourselves available at the earliest opportunity.”

Nick Smith’s distribution of the letter follows a row in Parliament today in which New Zealand First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters accused National in Parliament of failing to declare $100 million of donations.

It looks like ugly debate on donations will continue.


Stuff: Winston Peters says the NZ First foundation is similar to the National Party’s foundation. Here’s how it isn’t

“It’s based on the National Foundation,” he said.

But while the initial brief for the NZ First Foundation did name-check the National Party’s foundation, in practice it has operated completely differently.

National Party spokesman Mark Nicholson said the National Party Foundation is treated by the Electoral Commission as the same entity in terms of donations.

“All donations to the National Foundation are treated as donations to the political party and recorded,” he said.

Nicholson said a system to aggregate donations is in place and all donations are declared by the party secretary in their annual returns.

Electoral returns from New Zealand First do not match up with donation amounts into the foundation bank accounts.

In 2017, NZ First declared 13 donations of more than $5000 to $15,000 but bank records show at least 26 donations within the same range were deposited into foundation accounts.

In 2018, NZ First declared just five donations between $5000 and $15,000 but bank records for the foundation showed 10 across three months of records.

“The Foundation will be a key part of the activities of the NZ First Party but will not be involved in policy development, organisation, structure or day-to-day operation of the party.”

However, bank records show the capital was spent on party-related expenses including: campaign headquarters, legal advice, internet, signage, advertising, website, storage, political advice, staff and reimbursed MPs for travel expenses.

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.

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

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.”