Peters files legal action over super overpayment leak

Winston Peters has filed  new papers over the alleged leak of his superannuation overpayments, seeking $450,000.

He has dropped journalists  Tim Murphy and Lloyd Burr from the action, as well as Bill English, Steven Joyce, former PM chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, National Party staffer Clark Hennessey and former Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley.

He has added two public servants.

ODT (NZME):  Peters back to court over super payment

…Winston Peters has begun new legal action seeking $450,000 for alleged breach of privacy in relation to the leaking of details of his superannuation overpayment, including against the Ministry of Social Development.

He is going after the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development, Brendan Boyle, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the Attorney-General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development and Paula Bennett, the former National State Services Minister.

Hughes and the Ministry of Social Development are new targets in Peters’ legal action.

The timing of Peters’ action is extraordinary given that he about to become Acting Prime Minister in the next week or so when Jacinda Ardern takes leave to have her baby.

All targets of his action are entitled to apply to the Cabinet to have their legal fees paid – the Cabinet which Peters will be leading.

The whole thing is extraordinary.

Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murphy on ‘Winston goes fishing’

Journalist Tim Murphy, now at Newsroom,  is one of those who was served with legal papers today trying to discover who leaked information about the Winston Peters superannuation overpayment. He has written about it in Winston goes fishing.

He says that he has been included due to a single tweet, and for being ‘a long time media detractor’ of Peters.

It says Peters became aware of a tweet by me supposedly boasting that Newsroom was about to publish a story. No such claim was made on Twitter or elsewhere. It claims ‘innuendo” that the “story would destroy Peters’ political career”.

For that Murphy has been named as first defendant.

 No such indication could possibly have been taken from the tweet. In any case, the tweet was deliberate parody of news media promotion of their upcoming stories.

The actual documents are an application “for discovery before proceeding commenced under High Court rule 8.20” and an affidavit from a Remuera lawyer Clifton Killip Lyon.

For each defendant there is an attached schedule listing what it is that Peters’ lawyers want under this fishing – sorry, discovery – expedition. It ranges from journalists’ notes, phone records, emails and other communications to ministers’ documents and phone and meeting records.

“To issue proceedings,” the application says, “he [Peters] requires access to the document trail developed by the conduct of the intended defendant’s aforesaid conduct”.

It appears that Peters is trying to find evidence – if so that appears he may have made serious accusations without having much in the way solid evidence – and possibly no evidence apart from a bit of banter in social media.

Lyon and Henry have been instructed by Peters “to identify and sue” those responsible, once they have any information that can help them finalise their “pleadings”.

If Peters knew who leaked he would surely have just targeted them.

 

Shambolic start to Parliament

I’ve been away for a couple of days so am just catching up a bit. It sounds like Parliament and politics is a shambles today.

Stuff:  Red-faced Government needs to bury first-day farce, fast

So far so shambolic. If this is a taste of things to come in the new Parliament, get ready for a wild ride.

Labour has run hard up against the reality of dealing with the biggest single Opposition party ever, and the panicked scenes as it tried to bargain its way out of an embarrassing vote to elect the new Speaker are a memory it will want to bury quick smart.

The desperate discussions captured on the floor of Parliament as Labour’s leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, tried to salvage a bad situation from turning into a train wreck are just the sort of images Labour doesn’t need.

Those images have catapulted what would normally be an in-house, procedural stoush, into a defining moment. They fit the Opposition narrative – the narrative being that this is the same party that only a few months ago was divided, and defeated, that Labour wasn’t ready for power, that the next three years are going to be a shambles.

The first vote on the first day of the House means none of those things of course. Labour was never actually at risk of losing the vote to elect a new Speaker – but what’s important is it thought that it might, after National spotted the absence of a number of Government MPs, and threatened to elect its own Speaker.

Looks like a steep learning curve for  Hipkins and for Labour.

While Labour was still scrambling to recover from that debacle, Foreign Minister Winston Peters dropped a bombshell, serving legal papers taking broad aim at a bunch of Opposition MPs, political staffers, a government department chief executive, and journalists, before heading overseas.

It’s hard to know whether Peters has evidence and wants more to back it up, or he is, as some have claimed, on a massive fishing expedition. If the latter then it looks problematic – especially going after journalists for their sources.

And it had been cl.aimed the papers were prepared two days prior to the election, and obviously well in advance of the supposed coalition negotiations.

Were the negotiations are farce designed to force Labour into conceding more?

Or was the legal action used as leverage – something like an attempt at political blackmail?

It at least make sit appear as if a National-NZ First coalition was a hopeless case.

At least they sorted themselves out in Parliament, with Trevor Mallard appointed Speaker.

But the deputy Prime Minister starting his term playing legal hard ball with the Leader of the Opposition, senior opposition MPs and journalists suggests the possibility of a very messy term – if it survives.

Stuff: Winston Peters looks to sue over pension leak

An affidavit seen by Stuff shows papers have been filed in the High Court naming Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle, National leader Bill English and his former chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, former ministers Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce, and Anne Tolley, and journalists Lloyd Burr and Tim Murphy.

Former National Party campaign communications manager Clark Hennessy is also named. The affidavit alleges Hennessy was the most likely source of the leak.

In a statement, Hennessy said “I strongly deny any involvement in this matter or anything to do with Mr Peters’ personal life”.

The affidavit, prepared by Peters’ lawyers, says he has instructed them to identify and sue the “persons responsible” for the leak. The affidavit was sworn in September, but the papers were only served on Tuesday, after Peters had left the country for an international summit

 

Scenic Hotel company versus Andrew Little

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

NZ Herald: Scenic Group founders consider legal action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal action via media

There’s been a number of prominent examples of people using legal action in parallel with media campaigns.

This week Colin Craig launched a media blitz before even filing defamation action, and he has continued to work the media as much as he can via follow up interviews and social media promotion.

If his claims against Jordan Williams, John stringer and Cameron Slater hold up then it will have been a nasty campaign against Craig.

But why would Slater in particular make accusations he couldn’t back up knowing that Craig had a history of legal action? Slater has a lot of experience in legal actions so will have been well aware of the risks and what caution was prudent.

And the way Craig has used the media as his main form of attack questions his credibility in some ways. He seems to be more intent on fighting a PR battle using the threat of defamation as one of a number of tools.

It looks more like grandstanding than defending his integrity.

The timing may be influenced by Craig’s obvious ambition to get enough support in the Conservative Party to be reinstated as leader.

Is he playing to the party audience? To some extent that must be his aim.

But when legal action – presuming he follows through with defamation proceedings – is overwhelmed by a media blitz then it appears that legal resolution is not the main aim.

And if it gets to court the public campaigning may be taken into account in making any judgement of possible damages.

Craig has drawn more attention to what has happened and what has allegedly happened than anyone else, and he continues to do this via media.

Even if, despite all the self generated publicity, he manages to get a favourable court decision that will probably take too long for him politically.

He appears to want to be Conservative leader soon and to contest the election in 2017.

Sure if his claims are correct he has reason to feel aggrieved but his political comeback seems to be his primary focus, and legal threats look to be one of a number of means towards an intended end.

This looks very political, so that plus Craig’s media blitz must raise questions about the potential effectiveness of any threatened legal action.

Craig can reasonably be questioned what his priority is, resurrecting his political career or his personal integrity.

Is this legal action via media? Or media action with legal threats thrown in?

(Note to Craig: you have a right of reply)

Dotcom considering legal action against Key

Kim Dotcom has tweeted that he is considering legal action against John Key for “political interference” in supplying Whale Oil with information.

Herald journalist David Fisher (@DFisherJourno) tweeted (at 9.48 pm Friday 14th):

A factor in the Dotcom extradition is political influence. Was the PM looking to get dragged into the case? #PMintheWitnessStand? #Whaleoil

Dotcom re-tweeted that and tweeted (at 9.59 pm Friday 14th):

Lawyers are looking at political interference by John Key leaking information to Whaleoil & supporting Dotcom smear campaign. #WitnessStand

Fisher has written a book on Dotcom and there seems to be an ongoing relationship between the two. It seems risky for a senior award winning journalist to get so close to such a controversial figure. Dotcom seems to seduce people (politicians and journalists) into risking their careers. I don’t know what the attraction is, other than money and power.

Dotcom tweeted on Thursday:

I invite every serious NZ journalist to read this: http://Kim.com/whitepaper.pdf  and David Fishers book about my scandalous case. Educate yourself.

I have no idea what sort of legal action could be taken on this. I presume it has something to do with Dotcom’s (and Winston Peters’) allegations. Dotcom tweeted several times on this on Thursday:

The fact is my case is a POLITICAL case. Paid for by Hollywood. Executed by White House & John Key. NZ politicians talk with me about that.

John Key about how he knew Winston Peters visited the mansion: “From time to time people see things, and from time to time they tell me.” 🙂

None of the people who have “seen” Winston Peters visiting the mansion have “told” John Key about it. Come clean Mr. Key. Who told ya? GCSB?

In the interest of transparency John Key must release information about how he knew about Winston Peters “three” visits. School mate Ian?

The more political Dotcom makes his case the more chance he seems to think he has of avoiding extradition to the US.

The claim that the GCSB told Key told Whale Oil is very dubious. Ironically Dotcom later tweets:

Leaks are tricky. They are worthless if not substantiated. You might be tempted to use them anyway. But then you get into ‘serious’ trouble.

His accusations are worthless unless substantiated too. It is far more likely (supported by statements and evidence) that a leak from Dotcom’s mansion found it’s way to Whale Oil (Cameron Slater) and/or Rachel Glucina who both publicised the visits by Peters days before John Key brought it up in Parliament.

Dotcom is fighting a very interesting battle. It is big stakes for him. He may succeed, or it may backfire and make his case more difficult for him – especially if he keeps making unsubstantiated and apparently absurd claims

UPDATE: Fran O’Sullivan has a column in the Herald today that’s related: Content creators can have a beef with Dotcom and there’s some discussion on her Facebook link to this where she has commented:

David Fisher had lost the plot. Dotcom’s former staffers leaking like sieves. Seems they don’t respect confidentiality agreements. Hard to sue them when you don’t respect property rights either.