High Court bars Jami-Lee Ross from publishing SFO documents

Ex National and now Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross, who is being prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office over donations made to National that Ross went public about to try to damage National, has now been barred from publishing documents provided to him by the SFO as part of the prosecution proceedings.

RNZ: High Court blocks Jami-Lee Ross from publishing sensitive documents

The SFO said the material was sent to all the defendants as part of its disclosure obligations and Ross then expressed an interest in publishing it.

“The agency believes any publication of the material would have breached the SFO’s secrecy provisions and been contrary to requirements of confidentiality applying to the use of material obtained through court proceedings.

“However, the SFO sought a court order to ensure there was no doubt that the material remained confidential,” the agency said in a statement.

Ross said he had no intention of breaching people’s privacy but wanted to expose the nature of the documents.

After his attempt to expose National backfired on him badly Ross should have been cautious about publicising court documents.

Perhaps he thought that any publicity was good publicity heading into an election he looks likely to lose.

It is more common for politicians to insist on their own silence on matters ‘before the courts’.

Ross maintained that he was a whistleblower, but the SFO seems to think differently.

In February Ross made a statement to the court that there was “No basis for such a concern” that Ross ” may make a statement to Parliament regarding the matter”.

RNZ – National Party donations case: Jami-Lee Ross named as suppressions lifted

Former National MP, and now independent, Jami-Lee Ross, has been named today as one of the four people facing Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charges in relation to two $100,000 donations made to the National Party.

Today the application filed for Ross said he “has not and does not seek interim name suppression and is happy if such orders are discharged or lapse”.

His application also said the other three had applied to have name suppression lifted “due to an apparent concern that Mr Ross, as a sitting Member of Parliament may make a statement to Parliament regarding the matter”.

“No basis for such a concern has been provided, and there is none,” it said.

“Parliament has been sitting for a week. During that time, Mr Ross has at no time indicated an intention to make a statement in Parliament or to the public regarding this matter in breach of the current orders, nor has he done so. He has complied fully with the interim orders, notwithstanding these were never sought by him.”

But a week ago Ross did want to reveal details in Parliament.

NZ Herald: National’s President Peter Goodfellow addresses threats from Jami-Lee Ross to release leaked donor info

National’s president is playing down threats by ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross to make public the party’s 2017 donation records in the House tomorrow.

On Sunday, the sitting Botany MP claimed to have been leaked National’s 2017 donor list…

He said he planned to table evidence of this in Parliament before Parliament adjourns for the campaign period.

Ross told the Herald that at this stage, he planned to table the documents during tomorrow’s general debate in the House.

He must have been blocked from tabling the documents.

And it doesn’t seem a coincidence that the SFO has obtained a bar on releasing documents – are these the same documents that Ross claimed were ‘leaked’?

Stuff: Serious Fraud Office accidentally leaked document to Jami-Lee Ross

On Thursday, the SFO welcomed a court decision confirming the confidentiality of material that was inadvertently disclosed by the agency to the defendants.

The material was disclosed during the course of the agency’s compliance with its normal disclosure obligations.

In a statement by the SFO on Thursday, it said it had acted with an abundance of care in seeking the court order as one of the parties had reportedly expressed an interest in publishing the material.

“The agency believes that any publication of the material would have breached the SFO’s secrecy provisions and been contrary to requirements of confidentiality applying to the use of material obtained through court proceedings.”

The SFO then sought a court order to ensure there was no doubt that the material remained confidential.

This doesn’t sound like a leak to me, despite their headline Stuff reports “inadvertently disclosed” and “the material was disclosed during the course of the agency’s compliance with its normal disclosure obligations”.

SFO investigating Labour Party donations

The Serious Fraud Office announced today that they are investigating Labour Parry donations from 2017.

SFO commences investigation in relation to Labour Party donations

The Serious Fraud Office has commenced an investigation in relation to donations made to the Labour Party in 2017.

The SFO is presently conducting four investigations in relation to electoral funding matters. A fifth matter that the agency investigated relating to electoral funding is now before the courts.

“We consider that making the current announcement is consistent with our past practice in this area of electoral investigations and in the public interest,” the Director of the SFO, Julie Read, said.

In the interests of transparency and consistency, the SFO has announced the commencement of all these investigations.

RNZ: Serious Fraud Office to investigate 2017 Labour Party donations

In a statement, the SFO said it was conducting four investigations in relation to electoral funding, and a fifth was now before the courts.

The other cases involved respectively the New Zealand First FoundationAuckland Council, and Christchurch Council.

An SFO investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation was launched in February, after police promptly handed in a complaint from the Electoral Commission last November.

Kiwiblog: SFO announces investigation into Labour’s 2017 donations

This is very interesting. If I had to guess, I’d say the investigation was into Labour not naming people who paid tens of thousands of dollars for artworks as a donation to Labour.

The Standard:  SFO to Investigate Labour Donations

It appears the investigation may be into donations made at a ‘silent’ art auction in 2017. In February, Labour acknowledged that two men facing SFO charges along side National Party bag man Jami-Lee Ross and another man over donations to the Tories, had made donations to Labour as well.

Labour Party president Claire Szabo said at the time that Zheng Hengjia donated $10,000 by buying a piece of art at a silent auction in April 2017 and Zheng Shijia donated $1940 in 2018.

Szabo noted both donations were included in the Labour Party return filed in the respective years.

Possibly the main change of note here is that finally the SFO are investigating donations. In the past the Police tended to kick for touch on political investigations.

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.

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.

 

Two mayors under SFO investigation over donations

The Serious Fraud Office, already prosecuting four people including MP Jami-Lee Ross over donations made to the National Party and investigating  donations made to the NZ First Foundation, has announced two more investigations, one into Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, the other into Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Stuff: Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel under scrutiny as expenses complaint referred to Serious Fraud Office

Pressure is mounting on Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel after police referred a complaint about her election expenses to the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO said police passed on the matter of Dalziel’s expenses on Tuesday, the organisation receiving the file on Friday.

Dalziel, who defeated Darryll Park and John Minto in October to win her third term as mayor, was criticised for failing to identify donors who made significant contributions to her campaign.

Minto made the complaint to electoral officer Jo Daly in December after Dalziel’s election return listed only her husband, lawyer Rob Davidson, as a donor at a campaign fundraiser in July.

But after coming under public pressure she revealed the names of six people who donated more than $1500 at the dinner by buying auctioned wine for prices higher than market value.

All six have connections with Davidson, and many have links to China.

The mayor has also previously declined to release details of her 2016 election campaign donations, despite the timeframe for any prosecution having expired.

Dalziel is not the first mayor to have difficulties with election expenses. This month the SFO revealed it has seen a 40 per cent increase in cases involving public officials, central and local government, in the past five years.

Stuff: Auckland Mayor Phil Goff referred to Serious Fraud Office over election expenses

The Serious Fraud Office has received a referral from police in relation to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s election expenses.

The SFO said it would be assessing the matter and had no further comment at this time.

Electoral law dictates candidates can accept anonymous donations under $1500, but must disclose the names of donors who contribute more than that sum.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said he had “no knowledge of a complaint being referred to the SFO nor of any irregularities”.

In September, Auckland’s electoral officer, Dale Ofsoske, passed on to police a complaint about Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s 2016 election expense declaration.

Goff’s $366,000 fundraising auction declaration did not specify individual donations or purchases, which included the sale at an auction of a book for $150,000. The book had belonged to Goff, a former minister of foreign affairs, and had been signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Police made “a number of inquiries” before the timeframe for any prosecution expired in December, rendering them unable to progress the matter.

Ofsoske told Stuff at the time the complaint was under section 112D of the Local Electoral Act 2001, ‘Filing a false return of electoral donations and expenses’.

Pressure is increasing on changing electoral laws on donations. The problem is, the parties who benefit the most from donations decide on what the rules should be.

The Press Editorial:  It’s time to end the secrecy over political donations

There are now questions over the funding of two of our major political parties, including one that is in Government, and the mayors of our two largest cities, both of whom are former Cabinet ministers.

Even if the process is not corrupt, the secrecy and the manipulation of the rules risks eroding public trust in our democracy.

Is there a better way to fund elections? Dalziel’s mayoral challenger, John Minto, who brought the complaint about Dalziel’s donations to the electoral officer, has suggested an overhaul of donation rules within wider electoral law reform. Minto argues that all donors giving over $50 should be identified, individuals should be named rather than companies and donors should be identified at least one week before the election.

Informed voters could make their choices accordingly.

But in Christchurch, neither Dalziel nor candidate Darryll Park was prepared to do the same. Minto volunteered that he had just one donation over $1500, from the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.

Banning donations and publicly funding candidates and parties instead is not the answer. Rather, New Zealand voters must now start to demand greater transparency.

Listener editorial: A simple way to clean up the political donations mess

The Greens have an idea for cleaning up political donations, starting with “an independent citizens’ assembly” because, they say, “it’s clear that Parliament is incapable of [making] meaningful reforms to itself”.

Here’s a different idea for cleaning up political donations, which is simpler and more cost-effective than the Greens’ proposal: obey the law. Everyone else must, whatever their line of work, and political parties should, too.

Just because parties and individuals sometimes fall foul of electoral law does not automatically mean the law needs “reform”…

Good call. It just means that the current laws need to be applied.

The current prosecutions and investigations are likely to have a significant impact on potential donors as well as parties and politicians. They have been warned.

A robust democracy needs political parties to be sufficiently funded to actively participate in elections. That is not cheap and parties rely on donations to foot it in an election campaign. If the $15,000 limit above which a single donation must be declared – and the $40,000 from one donor in a year – is considered the wrong level, then parties can make a case to set it higher or lower. Whatever the limit, the incentive to give just under the cut-off point will always apply to those who would prefer, for whatever reason, not to have their names disclosed.

The ability to solicit donations is a reasonable way for parties to pay for their activities, and the ability to donate is, equally, a reasonable way for New Zealanders to support their preferred party. The alternative is state funding. Nothing suggests that would find favour with the public.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigations involving National and NZ First, perhaps all parties need to reconsider the training they provide to MPs, staff, officers and volunteers about the laws affecting donations.

I think the biggest problems seem to be at the top of parties and campaigns.

It’s hard to know whether the sudden splurge of SFO investigations is a sign of more questionable donation dealings, or more complaints, or more response to complaints by the SFO. It should at least serve as a warning too parties and candidates in this year’s election.

Applying the current laws may be all that is needed to ensure far better compliance.

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.

Jami-Lee Ross versus Barry Soper

After Jami-Lee Ross was revealed as one of the four people charged by the SFO over the National Party donations issue he released a statement saying he couldn’t say much, but it’s too long to repeat in full here. He headed it ‘Spoke Up Now Set Up’, and began:

Just like donations to political parties, the justice system should be open and transparent. That is what I believe and have sought.

Until now, however, I have been unable to make a public statement regarding these allegations, despite wanting to do so.

That is because at the end of January, the three people responsible for the donations to the National Party in 2017 and 2018 made an urgent application for suppression of their names and any details that might identify them. I was not aware of their application at the time. I made no application for suppression of my own name or details.

While shocked that I had been targeted by the SFO, I had no intention of hiding away. I always wanted to make it very clear that as the whistle blower on this deception, it was outrageous that I was then charged and that others were seeking to implicate me, making me their expendable scape goat.

However, I couldn’t speak up, as I needed to respect the right of those three people to seek name suppression. Further, even though I made no application for name suppression, the same protection was extended to me by the Court despite me not wanting that.

I have complied with the court’s orders to date, as is expected of any person in my position. The public could rightly be outraged, if I did not respect the court’s decision, or if I sought to abuse my freedom of speech in the Parliament to circumvent that decision.

However, in later court documents my lawyers have made it clear that I never sought name suppression and that I do not want it. I have therefore proactively sought to have the suppression orders lifted so that I can make this statement.

Barry Soper has a different take on things: If Ross didn’t want name suppression why did he threaten me?

Surely this came from a man who was muzzled against his will, from a person who blew the whistle that’s now rendered him deaf.

That’s what Jami-Lee Ross, one of the four defendants to the Serious Fraud Office charges which go before the Auckland District Court next week, would have us believe.

The other three, Chinese businessmen who donated two hundred grand to the National Party over two years when Ross was the bagman, made an urgent application for name suppression when the charges were laid, he tells us in a statement where he’s painted himself as very much the victim.

And just to reinforce his muzzled state because of their actions, he says he was unaware an application for suppression was being made and his lawyers didn’t make one for him. He goes on, he had no intention of hiding away but he couldn’t speak up because of the actions his three co-defendants had taken.

The court suppressed his name despite the fact that he didn’t want it, he claims. Furthermore, Ross said the public could be rightly outraged if he didn’t respect the court’s decision, or if he sought to abuse his freedom of speech in Parliament to circumvent the decision.

Then he went on to protest his innocence, vowing to fight the charges just as the three donors have.

For an accused who so desperately wanted to speak out it’s a little difficult to gel that with his lawyers’ reaction to my publicly naming him as one of the defendants on the day the Serious Fraud Office said it was laying charges.

In a text exchange they were blunt to say the least, telling me I was in contempt – the matter is before the court. They told me action would be taken the following day unless his name was taken down from our website: “You are on notice,” they warned.

It was pointed out to them the matter hadn’t been to court yet and maybe they should have been quicker off the mark if they wanted suppression of their client’s name.

“Charges are laid, it’s before the court – we can’t seek suppression till then. The SFO will be in contact. They are also very angry as it now risks the case.

“This contempt is actionable and worse for you, now admitted by you as intentional – ring your lawyers.”

And just to add a final threatening slap, after I said Ross had been named in the public interest, the text read: “I don’t want any crap Barry – but this was silly.”

David Farrar makes a similar claim:

Of course Ross goes on to claim he is innocent, has been set up and Simon Bridges is the Villain. He may be hoping the trial won’t happen until after the election in September.

I’ll wait until the court case reveals what actual evidence there is.

Ross claims to have new evidence  that will turn the legal tide – but like Cameron Slater (who has backed Ross against National) and Winston Peters (who Slater has backed against National)  often make ‘we have evidence’ but fail to produce it. Or at least we are still waiting for them to come up with it.

Claire Trevett: Jami-Lee Ross SFO charges – blowing the whistle NZ politics’ greatest own goal

That’s behind the NZH pay wall, but the headline probably says it all.

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.