John Key will be regretting his moan about the media yesterday. His reward has been to be shown to be lying in the banks.com affair. Key has previously claimed he first heard of Dotcom (a flamboyant multi-millionaire living in the most expensive house in the country, in Key’s electorate, who had been the subject of several contacts to Key’s office by constituents) the day before he was arrested. A new email, however, shows Dotcom’s staff met with Key personally months earlier over his attempt to purchase the Crisco mansion.
Dear oh dear, this isn’t what Key wanted a week from the Budget. Maybe he’s learning the truth of the old adage about not picking a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
John Banks is further implicated too.
It is revealed he didn’t negotiate a discount during his stay at Dotcom’s favorite hotel in Hong Kong, as he claimed. In truth, he booked a cheaper room and the hotel upgraded him due to his friendship with Dotcom. He also received a thousand dollar gift basket from Dotcom welcoming him and replied thanking him. Banks claimed he re-gifted it, which smells like an excuse for not declaring receipt of a gift worth over five hundred dollars while a minister as legally required.
Banks wrote a note thanking Dotcom for the gift and have him a bottle of whiskey in return.
Which makes Banks’ recall – at least he has one now – of a second approach to Dotcom for money all the more unlikely. The same email that mentions Key personally met with Dotcom’s staff reveals that Banks asked Dotcom for money when he was running for ACT last year. Unlike the supposedly anonymous mayoral donation, which Banks can’t remember anything about, despite having been flown out to Dotcom’s mansion to personally discuss it, Banks remembers his approach last year vividly. He says Dotcom told him to fuck off. Which kind of jars with the warm exchange of expensive gifts just months later.
We know that Dotcom didn’t give ACT any money. But Banks’ approach does raise further questions about whether he really didn’t know that his good friend had previously given his mayoral campaign $50,000.
All of this raises concerns about whether Banks’ behaviour was to an acceptable ethical and legal standard both before and after he became a minister. Not to mention raising questions about whether Key lied about his knowledge of Dotcom. But it doesn’t change the political calculus for Key – unless he has some guarantee that Banks wouldn’t go septic on the backbench or resign from Parliament at an inopportune time leaving Key unable to pass controversial legislation, then Key must leave Banks on as a minister to ensure he had the numbers in the House.
To my mind, the most likely scenario remains that Key will let Banks hold on until the end of the year, then we’ll have a by-election while the House is risen for summer. That will remain Key’s optimal strategy unless something truly horrendous about Banks emerges.
But the political cost of that strategy, and the stink around his government, will keep growing by the day.
[Bunji: added second link]