Newly uncovered correspondence between Melissa Lee and NZ on Air shows that she and her leader, John Key, seriously misled the media, the house and the public over the issue of her company’s misappropriation of $80,000 of NZ on Air funds.
Documents obtained by The Standard show Lee’s claim to media that she had no idea about the matter until 12th of October was false. (“Ms Lee said she was informed of the problem when a business partner forwarded her a letter last night”*, “NZ on Air sent a letter to my business partner which I have just received now”*) Lee was actually notified five months earlier on the 18th of May. Here’s the note from the NZ on Air file:
Spoke to Melissa Lee 16:45 18/5. She thought the amount coded to contingency was for overexpenditure in other codes. She will check with the previous production manager who has left the company.
The documents also confirm Lee’s first written reply on the issue was on the 22nd of June:
I just want to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated June 12th. It was received by the Asia Downunder office on Friday and it was delivered to me today
And that she had acknowledged there was money to pay back on the 17th August (although this letter, supposedly sent the day before Broadcasting Minister Johnathan Coleman found out about the issue, wasn’t received by NZ on Air until August 24th):
I would like your guidance and advice on what [sic] and how we sort this error out.
Maybe that reflects badly on NZ On Air, which thinks that the way that it should respond to these things is by leaking them to the Labour Party, without having the courtesy of sending the letter in the first place to Melissa Lee.
But we now know that NZ on Air had notified Lee more than five months earlier. The information John Key provided to the House, whether intentional or not, is false.
Within hours of the TV3 airing, Lee’s company announced that they would pay the money back with Lee issuing a statement claiming it was “a technical accounting mistake” and that “This has come as a total surprise, the company wasn’t aware that the money set aside in the contingency was technically expected to be refunded.” The implication was that the “surprise” issue had only just come to her attention and she had moved quickly to fix it. We now know this is untrue. We also have no record of the money being refunded.
This new information raises some serious questions. It’s clear from the documents that Lee lied to the media about her knowledge of the situation and it’s highly likely that, having known about the misappropriation of public funds for some time, she was only willing to pay the (taxpayers’) money back after it became a media story.
Further, John Key lied to Parliament the following day. I would have expected that before he took this up in the House he would have been briefed by Lee and told about how far back her knowledge of the issue went. The public deserve answers:
– What did Melissa Lee tell John Key about when she first knew of NZ on Air’s allegations?
– Did John Key make it up when he said NZ on Air had leaked the letter to Labour before telling Melissa Lee?
– Did Melissa Lee backdate her letter of 17 Aug, which wasn’t received by NZ on Air until August 24th? Jonathan Coleman says he was told of the problem by the chair of NZ on Air on August 18th.
– Why did Lee wait until the TV3 broadcast to pay back the money, when she indicated to NZ on Air several months earlier that she wanted to sort it out?
– Who was involved in the cover-up to keep the issue secret from the people of Mt Albert before the 13th June by-election?
– Lee, Key and Coleman each need to spell out in detail what they knew when.
– Will John Key apologise to Parliament for presenting misinformation on the matter during question time?