More on NZ First Foundation use of funds

More revelations on the use of the NZ First Foundation that handled party donations apparently without reporting correctly to the Electoral Commission (currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office).

RNZ: NZF Foundation spent $130k on company run by Winston Peters’ lawyer

Tens of thousands in donor’s funds given to the New Zealand First Foundation were spent paying expenses, wages and bills for people closely associated with the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

The foundation, which has bankrolled NZ First using secret donations from rich business people, spent more than $130,000 on a company run by Brian Henry – the personal lawyer and close friend of Peters.

Documents obtained by RNZ show that between January 2018 and July 2019, the foundation took in $224,000 in donations from supporters – and overall, spent at least $368,000.

Of that, at least $137,000 of foundation funds were spent on a company called QComms.

Company office records show the sole director and shareholder of QComms is Brian Henry, who is a trustee of the foundation and the judicial officer of the New Zealand First party.

The two people who did most of the work for QComms were also closely linked to the party.

Jamie Henry, Brian Henry’s daughter, received $64,500 in wages and expenses, which included seven identical amounts, totalling $3010, referenced as ‘rent’. All those costs were paid by the foundation.

Jamie Henry would not comment when contacted by RNZ.

The other key worker for QComms was John Thorn, who received $61,000 in wages and expenses in just over a year, all paid by the foundation.

Thorn, who has now left the party, was the vice-president for the South Island and the NZ First official who authored a paper first setting out a proposal that the party establish the New Zealand First Foundation.

Asked if he knew anything about the payments to QComms, Peters said he had nothing to do with it “in that context”.

That’s an evasive response.

“I think you should ask Mr Henry or the Serious Fraud Office.”

He said he was “absolutely relaxed about that” and would not comment further.

Brian Henry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

I think it’s expected that Henry or Peters wouldn’t want to comment while it is being investigated by the SFO, but these revelations add to an ongoing problem for Peters and NZ First.

That the Foundation was paying a company owned and directed by a trustee of the Foundation on it’s own looks dicey.

The company dates back to 2002 but the original name DOBSON & LANE LIMITED was changed from to GOLDMAN HENRY LIMITED in 2014, to HENRY MERCHANTS INTERNATIONAL LIMITED in 2015, and then to QCOMMS LIMITED on 16 February 2018.

Questions after NZ First files “materially different” donation return

NZ First seems to have changed the way it is reporting donations given to the NZ First Foundation in the party’s latest annual electoral return, which has raised further questions about whether they were correctly reporting donations in past years.

Electoral law professor Andrew Geddis said the return this year was “materially different” to last year, with much more money declared.

The NZ First Party is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over how it has been handling donations via the NZ First Foundation trust.

Winston Peters has claimed the party has never broken any electoral laws.

From RNZ in April:  SFO decision over NZ First Foundation will come before election

The Serious Fraud Office says it is on track to make a call before this year’s election on whether to lay charges in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation, which has been bankrolling the New Zealand First Party.

When the SFO first decided to look into the case, on 11 February, Peters challenged it to find the evidence and proof to make its case.

“They would have no such proof and no such evidence and we’ve got a legal opinion to back up what we have said.”

Yesterday from RNZ:  Foundation donations not named on NZ First electoral return

New Zealand First has once again opted not to name any donations from the mysterious foundation bankrolling the party on its electoral return.

But an electoral law expert said the party did for the first time seem to be including donations to the New Zealand First Foundation in an aggregated total – which called into question the accuracy of returns from previous years.

And for the first time since 2008, the party has named two external donors in its returns – a Wellington property investment company that agitated strongly against a capital gains tax and a wood exporter who owns a private island in the Bay of Islands.

Under electoral law, as well as naming donors who give more than $15,000 in a calendar year, parties must also declare the total amount of any smaller donations of $15,000 or less.

In its return, NZ First declared just over $317,000 in such donations, including 13 donations between $5000 and $15,000 – totalling just under $155,000.

It is not clear whether the individual donations the foundation received are included in that total, some of which were just under the $15,000.01 level at which the donors’ names would have to be made public.

Otago University electoral law professor Andrew Geddis said the return this year was “materially different” to last year, with much more money declared.

That raised questions about how the party had declared donations in previous years, Geddis believed.

“If it has started to treat money to the New Zealand First Foundation as if it was money to the New Zealand First party … it raises the question of why that didn’t occur in previous years.

“It also calls into question the robust assurances that [NZ First party leader] Winston Peters has given that the law was correctly followed in those earlier years.”

From Electoral Commission Party donations and loans:

NZ First total party donations:

  • 2019: $369,535.17
  • 2018: $87,689.60
  • 2017: $546,253.77

NZ First total party loans:

  • 2019: $44,923.00
  • 2018: $76,622.00
  • 2017: $73,000.00

2017 was election year so higher donations are to be expected, but the big drop in donations reported for 2018 looks remarkably low.

As Geddis says there are problems with the high threshold for declaring donors:

The underlying problem was the $15,000 threshold before a donor’s identity had to be declared, Geddis said.

That was “a lot of money”.

“What we see is, in essence, the New Zealand First party has received something like $150,000 from 13 individuals. We have no idea who those 13 individuals are, we’ve no idea of their links to the party, what they might want from the party – and, frankly, I don’t think that’s really a good enough situation to have in New Zealand.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be a problem if parties didn’t try to game the rules to hide larger donors.

In January the Serious Fraud Office filed criminal charges against four people in relation to donations paid into a National Party electorate bank account – see SFO National Party Donations

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.

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.”

NZ First funding under further scrutiny, Peters reacts under pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency promised after this has all been revealed by journalists.

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

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

Peters to journalists yesterday:

And so get this very clear.

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

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

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

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

But according to the Stuff:

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

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