More details on NZ First Foundation SFO charges

More details on the charges against two people in relation to NZ First Foundation handling of NZ First Party donations have been revealed, but the identities of the two people charged are still suppressed pending a reserved decision.

RNZ: Pair charged after SFO’s investigation accused of using ‘fraudulent device’

The pair charged after the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation are accused of using a “fraudulent device, trick or stratagem” to secure more than $700,000 then used to pay expenses for the New Zealand First party.

Two people have been charged with obtaining by deception after the SFO’s investigation into the foundation and its handling of donations.

Charging documents released to RNZ today show the two defendants used more than $700,000 in a “fraudulent device, trick or stratagem” to pay expenses for the New Zealand First party.

It was more than $740,000 of donations.

They say the pair used deception to obtain control over $677,885 deposited into the bank account of the New Zealand First Foundation account between 21 April 2017 and 14 February 2020.

The defendants are also charged with using $68,996 deposited into a bank account of a company run by one of the defendants between 31 October 2015 and 20 October 2017.

“Those undeclared funds thereby become available to [a company run by one of the defendants]/New Zealand First Foundation to use as the defendants saw fit, and were used to pay expenses of the party and to develop a fundraising database for the benefit of the party and [a company run by one of the defendants].”

The New Zealand First party took the SFO to the High Court last month seeking to suppress the announcement of the charges and the existence of their court action until after a new government has been formed.

The court ruled against the party, saying there was “a significant public interest in the New Zealand voting public being informed during an election campaign about criminal charges of serious fraud against people or organisations related to political parties”.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said his party has been completely exonerated by the investigation and stressed the foundation and party are entirely separate entities.

Peters repeated his ‘completely exonerated’ claim in last night’s leaders’ debate but that looks ridiculous.

He also said last night:

“I have welcomed the Serious Fraud Office inquiry from day one, and I welcome its outcome. Let me tell you one thing – I’ve got rid of two former Serious Fraud [Office] leaders – two, not one – and I’m not concerned about this at all.”

That also sounds like nonsense to me considering the lengths the party went to to try to hush up any mention of the case.

Meanwhile Labour is having their own problems: Ginny Andersen tells voters she’s been cleared by Commission, but Labour hasn’t

Labour’s Hutt South candidate, Ginny Andersen, has been cleared by the Electoral Commission for any potential wrongdoing in a local electorate scandal.

However, the Electoral Commission is still looking into potential wrongdoing by the Labour Party which has not declared the very low rent it has received for its Hutt South office as a donation.

SFO files charges in relation to NZ First Foundation donations

A media release from the Serious Fraud Office:

Published 29 September 2020

The SFO has filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.

The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.

The SFO has no further comment.

Media release from NZ First:

New Zealand First Fully Exonerated Of All SFO Charges

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters says today’s decision by the Serious Fraud Office exonerates the New Zealand First Party of any electoral law breaches.

Having fully investigated the allegations the SFO has cleared the New Zealand First Party, all of its Ministers, all sitting members of the New Zealand First party, all candidates standing for election and all party employees of any wrongdoing.

“It is a relief after months of this cloud hanging over the party that we have been fully cleared,” stated Mr Peters.

“Unlike the recent National Party donation scandal, no party member has been implicated or charged by the SFO.”

Notwithstanding the cloud being lifted, New Zealand First’s leader also expressed his dismay at the timing and conduct of the SFO decision.

“Whilst the SFO has confirmed that no New Zealand First Minister, parliamentarian or party member broke any electoral laws, the timing of its decision to lay charges against the Foundation constitutes a James Comey-level error of judgement,” said Mr Peters.

“It’s an appalling intrusion in a period when the people begin to think seriously about the shape of their next government.

“It has been amply demonstrated that FBI Director Comey’s groundless findings impacted on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Allegations were made about me in 2008 which the SFO found to be baseless.

“While we respect its independence, the SFO cannot justify the timing of its decision.

“It is quite shocking for any who believe in fair elections that the SFO, one day from overseas voting and four days from advance voting beginning, would interpose itself into the General Election in this poorly conceived fashion.

“The Foundation is an entirely separate entity from the New Zealand First Party but that distinction will be lost on some, and deliberately confused by others,” said Mr Peters.

“The way in which this investigation has been conducted raises serious questions about the conduct of the Serious Fraud Office.

“In my opinion, the SFO has acted unreasonably and without justification both in the way in which the investigation has been conducted and in public announcements the SFO has chosen to make about the investigation in breach of the Serious Fraud Office’s own written policy of not commenting on investigations until the first appearance of any accused facing charges,” stated Mr Peters.

“As a result, the New Zealand First Party has instructed its lawyers to issue proceedings in the High Court against the Serious Fraud Office seeking declarations that the Serious Fraud Office has amounted to an abuse of its statutory powers and has been unreasonable.

“Compounding the SFO’s poor judgement are three other matters. First, the SFO’s still incomplete investigation of foreign money flowing into the National Party. We know they were provided significantly more serious information about the pernicious foreign influence campaign that penetrated the National Party. Yet only a portion of those electoral breaches resulted in charges. Why?

“Second, if voters need to hear from the SFO before the election where are its findings about Labour’s mayoral electoral funding in both Christchurch and Auckland?

“Third, what about the SFO’s investigation into donations made to Labour in 2017?

“How is that fair? It is not.

“Voters will judge for themselves the fairness of the SFO’s actions.

“Notwithstanding today’s exoneration by the SFO, taxpayer-funded and other journalists, those who have spilled litres of ink in trying to destroy New Zealand First, must now confront the truth that not one Minister, MP, or party member has been anything other than fully exonerated,” stated Mr Peters.

“The point also needs to be repeated to those same journalists attempting to smear me and my party, that New Zealand First is completely separate from the Foundation.

“Neither I nor any other party is allowed to make any further comment on this matter because it is now sub-judice.”

As their is a suppression order on the case anything posted here that I deem puts this site at risk may be deleted.

SFO aiming for NZ First Foundation decision before election

The Serious Fraud Office have been investigating the NZ First Foundation, which appears to have bene used by the NZ First Party to handle donations. There have been media claims the foundation paid some party related expenses directly.

The SFO usually takes quite a while to investigate things, but they hope to have a decision before the election.

RNZ:  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.

In a rare statement today, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which normally gives little away, laid out its timetable for the investigation, which has faced challenges because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“The SFO’s pre-lockdown timetable for the investigation in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation would see us completing the investigation before the September election date,” director Julie Read said.

“At this stage, we are progressing the investigation under the current lockdown restrictions and are still on track to complete it within that timeframe.”

“Our actual completion date will be dependent upon our ability to conduct certain interviews as well as other tasks which can only be completed at lower alert levels and the cooperation of those who hold information relevant to our investigation.”

The election is still scheduled for 19 September, although Winston peters has called for a delay until November.

The investigation followed revelations by RNZ and Stuff that the foundation received donations from entities connected with some of the country’s wealthiest people in the business, fisheries and horse racing worlds.

None of the donations were declared in the party’s electoral returns and the only disclosed source of money to New Zealand First since 2017 was a loan made by the foundation.

Documents seen by RNZ show that between April 2017 and August 2019 nearly $500,000 was deposited into the foundation bank account, including payments from some of New Zealand’s wealthiest business people or entities connected to them.

In many cases the donations were for amounts just under the $15,000.01 level at which the donors’ names would normally be made public.

Over that period the foundation spent more than $425,000 paying bills for the New Zealand First party, including advertising expenses, fees for political consultants, rent, establishing a party HQ and running its website.

Barry Soper (NZH): Winston Peters’ trustee the subject of SFO raid

The offices of Winston Peters confidante and trustee of the New Zealand First Foundation Brian Henry were the subject of an early morning raid by the Serious Fraud Office in February, before the Covid-19 lockdown.

Investigators took documents relating to the Foundation, which was said by the Electoral Commission to be in breach of electoral law in that it didn’t declare donations that ended up being used for party expenses.

Henry appeared relaxed about the raid, saying he was happy to co-operate with the SFO because the Foundation had nothing to hide. He said all the documents were in a box waiting for them.

I presume the SFO will check those off against documents leaked to media.