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.

 

NZ First referred to police/Serious Fraud Office

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

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

Electoral Commission: Statement on donations enquiries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NZ First reaction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SFO charges four in National Party donations case

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

Published 

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

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

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

Statement from National Party and National Party Leader Simon Bridges:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loose cannon Shane Jones fires more shots, Ardern missing in action

I’m not sure if Shane Jones is deliberately trying to make things difficult for Jacinda Ardern, or is trying to establish himself as New Zealand’s version of Donald Trump (an arsehole popular enough to get elected), or is just getting out of control.

On Tuesday Jones made threats against a journalist who had criticised his conflict of interest as minister in charge of the Provincial Growth Fund – Hamish Rutherford “Minister of Regional Economic Development Shane Jones delights in announcing funding cash from the Provincial Growth Fund, but when he or his office face questions about the probity or merits of the fund, the response has bordered on hostile.” Shane Jones makes ‘chilling’ threats against journalist.

Yesterday in General Debate in Parliament he fired another shot at the journalist, threatened that the Government would ensure the SFO investigation of the National party over a donation was thorough, and also blasted the Spark CEO who made a disclosure as required by NZX rules.

This is a message to corporate New Zealand: do not arrogantly take upon yourselves the ability to influence foreign policy and make these unwise statements as Mr Simon Moutter did to the sharemarket, thus providing an opportunity for anxiety and stress for all of our exporters. Show judiciousness; do not go beyond your corporate writ. Wanderlust, you may be.

Jones has attacked CEOs and companies in the past, notably Air New Zealand.

How the bar has been set for the provincial champion to declare a conflict of interest. Has the Leader of the Opposition yet been interviewed by the Serious Fraud Office? Was the Leader of the Opposition interviewed by the police; more to the point, will he declare to the New Zealand public that he has been; and if that is the case, will he stand down? No. Where is this self-styled crusader of civic responsibility from Fairfax pummelling and pounding the other side of the House? Conspicuous silence from the media.

Another swipe at Rutherford. The media has not been silent on the announcement that the Police handed over the donation case to the Serious Fraud Office – but the SFO has not even said they will investigate yet, so obviously they won’t have interviewed Simon Bridges.

This is a very dangerous development in the integrity of our electoral system.

Ministers attacking journalists doing their job is not new, but Jones is threatening the integrity of the media, which is an essential component of our electoral system.

But, if he could actually do what he next threatens, that would be a particularly dangerous development on the integrity of both our democratic system and our judicial system.

Now, we’ve watched a pattern of this. We’ve watched a proud police officer be lampooned and suffer scurrilous allegations; he had done nothing wrong, yet he was pilloried, tainted, and stigmatised.

That’s talking about Wally Haumaha, who has been linked with NZ First. The State Services Commission found that Justice and Corrections had failed two complainants, and “A report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found two instances where the high-ranking cop aggressively asserted authority and belittled staff from Ministry of Justice and Corrections…The report said Haumaha’s behaviour met the common understanding of bullying…The IPCA received a third complaint in August, and found Haumaha pressured officers to provide information that would help him defend allegations after taking advice from lawyers.” – High-ranking cop Wally Haumaha belittled and humiliated staff, police watchdog says

May all of that wrongdoing rest upon the head of the Leader of the Opposition, because he says he’s the Leader of the National Party but it’s just not his responsibility in terms of what the Serious Fraud Office is looking at.

I make a prediction: the Serious Fraud Office, once unwisely sicked by that side of the House on to our Leader, knows we will study every single step that they take, to ensure—to ensure, because it’s the National Party—it’s not whitewashed. We will ensure that happens, this incredibly serious and people may very well go to jail, because they won’t have offended the Cabinet Manual; they will have broken the law.

Paul Goldsmith (National) followed Jones in the General Debate:

Well, here I am, coming after Shane Jones, and I’m not quite sure what he actually said, but he seemed to say that they will ensure—presumably, “they” being the Government of the day—that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) does a thorough job on our leader. That would be an extraordinary statement to make. Is he now saying that he is going to guide the SFO, which is an independent statutory body on the police doing their work? He’s going to stand and guide the SFO as they do their work? What an extraordinary thing for a Cabinet Minister to say. I can’t believe he said they will ensure that the SFO does it well.

Newshub: Shane Jones makes outrageous claims about National Party donations probe in Parliament

New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones has outrageously weighed in on the investigation into National Party donations.

The extraordinary scenes in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon added to a string of New Zealand First ministerial mishaps in recent times.

Jones’ incredible comment about the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) probe into the Simon Bridges-led party was made under parliamentary privilege and therefore protected from threats of prosecution.

But the SFO is protected by a fundamental of New Zealand’s democracy known as ‘constabulary independence’, meaning politicians can’t get involved in how it chooses to uphold the law – it’s sacred.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already mildly rebuked Jones after his attack on Rutherford. Will she do anything about this latest outburst from Jones? Probably not much – she seems largely impotent when it comes to NZ First loose cannon MPs bringing the Government into disrepute.

Jones seems to be able to get away with whatever he likes, and he seems to be getting out of control – but Winston Peters is also not doing anything about Jones, publicly at least at by the way Jones continues to spray dirty bullets around it appears that Peters approves of this.

And Ron Mark is also joining the attacks, so it appears that it may be a deliberate NZ First strategy to improve their flagging support.

They may manage to get another percent or two, but at risk of dragging Labour down, especially if Ardern continues to appear to have no control over them.

Ardern has successfully become a champion of progressive celebrity style politics, but if she can’t manage the tough stuff and show some leadership over her much smaller coalition partner party she may find some of her support is not sustainable.

SFO investigating National Party donation

More problems for the National Party and Simon Bridges after a complaint made by ex-National MP Jami-lee Ross to the police has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

This is an investigation, not a finding, but it doesn’t look flash for Bridges or National.

Newsroom: SFO to investigate National donation allegations

The Serious Fraud Office will investigate allegations of electoral donation fraud levelled against the National Party and its leader Simon Bridges by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross.

Ross has claimed vindication over the news, but Bridges has expressed confidence his own hands are clean and called on party officials to fully cooperate with the SFO inquiry.

Police started looking into the allegations after Ross spoke to them last year, but now appear to have elevated the issue into specialist hands.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, police said they had referred a complaint they received last October to the SFO, “in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act”.

“The complaint has been referred to the SFO as they hold the appropriate mandate to look further into matters raised by the investigation to date.”

Police said they could not comment on their own investigation while the SFO was looking into the allegations.

Also from Newsroom: Jami-Lee Ross rides again

The former National MP accused of bullying and cheating during his time in Parliament has written to all his Botany constituents asking not to be judged “on a month where personal and health-related matters became a distraction”.

The Serious Fraud investigation was made public yesterday in a two sentence statement from police:

Ross held a press conference claiming he had been doubted repeatedly but each time in this controversy had proven his critics wrong.

He’s a bit premature there, nothing has been proven about the donation yet.