Feeling the heat in Highwater-gate, John Key resorted to a ridiculous ‘may or may not’ defence in the House under questioning from Pete Hodgson. But no-one’s buying it. Colin Espiner writes “Everyone in the press gallery knows that Key has an interest in a vineyard. That’s how come we all got very nice bottles of pinot noir from Central Otago last Christmas, with “JK” emblazoned on the label.”
Here’s the exchange between Key and Hodgson:
11. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labourâ€”Dunedin North) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement to the New Zealand Herald last year that he has put certain assets into a blind trust that is ‘so blind I haven’t got a clue what’s in it’?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes.
Hon Pete Hodgson: How can that be, given that the public now knows that he knows he can access the details through Whitechapel Ltd whenever he wants to by going to the Companies Office website?
Hon JOHN KEY: The member is incorrect. I refer him to the legal opinion that I tabled last weekâ€”
Hon Annette King: We know who wrote that.
Hon JOHN KEY: If the member wants to call those lawyers and Bruce Gray QC, who peer-reviewed their opinion, liars, she is welcome to, but I suggest that she does it outside the Houseâ€”and I wish her good luck with that one. I tell her to be brave and go out. I refer to point six of the legal opinion, which says ‘Whitechapel Limited is the trustee of Aldgate Trust and may or may not act as trustee of other trusts.’ It is impossible to look at Whitechapel and know whom those assets are held for.
Hon Pete Hodgson: If I can find what is in his trust on any day of the week by going to Whitechapel Ltd, where I find only assets that were in his name at one time and never any other assets in the economy, why does he persist with the fiction that he cannot do so?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because I am accurate. Whitechapel is a trustee. It is a trustee for the Aldgate Trust, but it may also be a trustee for other trusts, and it may well have sold those assets. I have no knowledge of that.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the assets held by Whitechapel Ltd concern wine assets, dairy assets, and real estate assets, all of which used to be in the Prime Minister’s name, and that Whitechapel Ltd contains no other assets whatsoever?
Hon JOHN KEY: No. Whitechapel is a trustee company. It is a trustee company for the Aldgate Trust, as supplied in the legal opinion. As that opinion said in point six, Whitechapel may or may not act as a trustee for other trusts. It is physically impossible for anyone to know whom it holds those assets for.
Whitechapel was set up at the same time as Aldgate, Key’s ‘blind’ trust, and it owns only shares that Key used to own. There is no evidence it is trustee for any other trusts or reason to think it would be. The lawyers’ “may or may not” can be taken to mean “does not” – if Whitechapel did run any other trusts, the lawyers would have said so because that vital information might clear Key’s name.
Next question for Key should be along the lines of: ‘does Whitechapel, the trustee of his trust, still own the shares he sold to it soon after becoming Prime Minister’
On Nine to Noon on Monday, National spinmeister Matthew Hooton said “it’s a bit silly for him to say he has no idea what’s in there…. and giving away wine from a particular vineyard that he knew he owned once and thinks he probably does now was unwise”. Yeah, from Key’s perspective it was a bad mistake. It pretty much gave the game away.
Key needs to reassure the public that elected him that he has acted properly and stepped aside from decisions when the shareholdings in Aldgate gave him a conflict of interest.