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NZ First and the SFO

Written By: - Date published: 8:57 am, September 30th, 2020 - 38 comments
Categories: Judith Collins, law, law and "order", national, nz first, winston peters - Tags:

Some random musings on the news yesterday that persons associated with NZ First had been charged by the Serious Fraud Office.

I had no idea that over the past week there had been rather intense court activity trying to suppress news that the SFO had laid charges against two individuals.  Then at 5 pm yesterday there was this strange language in a press release from the SFO and a stand up from Winston to announce and discuss the results.

Yesterday morning National announcing it’s law and order policy. I expected it to highlight raw meat for its base. I thought it would be tough on drugs or something.  And its general policy does contain this detail.

But National chose to concentrate only on the SFO, highlighting increased funding and a new name.

Well give me a tinfoil hat but why would National give up chance to loudspeaker the raw meat policy and announce increased crown spending instead? Think they might have wanted to draw attention to and express support for the SFO?

And while I am at it with the tin foil hat why did the SFO delay the response to now when they said they would announce the result before the election when it was scheduled for September 17.  They claim that the lockdown has slowed things down and some interviews had to be conducted face to face.  I struggle to understand why.

The SFO announced details of the NZ First investigation at an early stage.  But it appears that National and NZ First and for that matter Labour have been treated differently.

The investigation into National’s funding arrangements commenced on March 12, 2019.  No doubt former National MP Jami-Lee Ross’s decision to visit the police and complain on October 17, 2018 had a part to play in this.  The SFO announced that it had received a referral from the police in relation to a complaint received in October 2018.  I presume this was the Ross complaint.  Interestingly the press release said that “[t]he SFO does not disclose the detail of ongoing investigations to protect the integrity of the investigation and those involved” and no party was named.

By way of contrast the press release in relation to NZ First said “[t]he Serious Fraud Office has today commenced an investigation in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation”.  No subtlety there.  And also tellingly the SFO announced an investigation into Labour naming the Labour Party without even telling Labour about it.

As to the merits it is cute in the extreme for Peters to claim that the party has been completely exonerated yet at the same time the SFO is involved in a witch hunt.

Not that I am sympathetic to NZ First. I hope they disappear this election.  But I can’t help but be puzzled by the SFO’s actions.

38 comments on “NZ First and the SFO ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Occam's Razor suggests that the SFO hierarchy is biased in favour of the establishment. That's obviously why it had to defer verdicts on National & Labour until the election is safely past.

    Observers will note this looks like a conspiracy theory. No shit! If the SFO hierarchy conspired to produce the deferrals, they'd be right. If, on the other hand, they have a boss, and the boss pointed out that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, so the chances of verdicts on the two mainstreamer parties couldn't reasonably be expected until several years had passed, staffers would conclude that a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse, nudge nudge wink wink say no more.

    Winston told Duncan Garner this morning that the Labour investigation was launched in 2017. No excuse for the lengthy delay on that, right??

    So the credibility of the SFO rests on whether the NZF controversy predated JLR's exposure of National circumvention of the donations law. However the SFO decision to charge the conduit instructor (JLR) rather than the party official who informed the instructor of the method to be used (National Party secretary) makes it clear to perceptive observers that the SFO believes its higher moral duty is to insulate the mainstream political parties from prosecution. To preserve the delusion in the public mind that our system of democracy is credible.

    • Incognito 1.1

      Socrates’s Razor suggests that we don’t know what’s going on in SFO; Socrates didn’t shave but only trimmed his beard 😉

  2. Ad 2

    Yes I had been thinking exactly the same thing Mickey.

    Firstly coming out with the result 3 days before voting starts is simply wrong. They are not Judges nor Police, so they are public servants. They should not be seen to be interfering in an election. Collins' networks within the Auckland senior legal networks are well known.

    Secondly actively putting your fingers on the scale by trying to take out Winston Peters is definitely an offence to democracy worthy of a day in court, even if Winston will lose. Someone in the public service tried to take him out in 2017 with the NZSuper revelations – irrespective of the State Service Commission denials. It was a clear hit.

    There was no need for National and their Deep Legal State supporters to stride across our political battlefield bayonetting the wounded.

    Possibly no one will sing his praises, but Winston has put more capital into more deals in more degraded small country towns than any other politician in living memory.

  3. greywarshark 3

    It certainly seems partisan of the SFO. For a while they have seemed less of a serious body devoted to dealing with fraud and corruption, and more of a well-paid group devoted to successful missions. If they don't think they can take a Court action and win, it seems that they don't even bother to investigate. It certainly was their response to one seemingly serious allegation I read about, can't remember details. Like the police they have much discretion. Where is the balance between control from the state and control from the director and management team? J Edgar Hoover loomed for decades in the USA. Do we have to put up with similar to their shonky systems undermining respect for government so people see it as either a toothless tiger or skewed against the little guy who ends up oppressed by it?

    Winston this morning on Radionz appeared grumpy as well he might be, when questioned about the Foundation and its money-gathering tactics. He claimed he didn't know, that it followed National's fund-raising methods, and was pestered by Suzy about who was paying for the Court fees about it and how much. He said he didn't know, and stuck to that.

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018766212/winston-peters-accusing-sfo-of-interfering-in-election

  4. Gabby 4

    Occam's extra sharp triple blade disposable razor suggests one of these cases might be easier to close than the others, which would appeal greatly to a lazy civil servant.

  5. Anne 6

    Well, it's no coincidence that Collins announced the mass increase in SFO funding yesterday morning, followed later in the day by the press release from the SFO about the NZ First Trust fund.

    Communications behind closed doors? Well, Collins knew something didn’t she.

    Labour should respond after the election by reducing SFO government funding. wink

    • Jae 6.1

      Pretty sure Labour and National would have been told, as there's IIRC a statutory requirement that both major parties are informed of significant announcements under 'No Surprises'

      • Anne 6.1.1

        Why would they have been told? The investigation had nothing to do with either major party, nor is it appropriate in the middle of an official election campaign – especially when the other two parties are facing investigations (in the case of National an investigation which is related to the original) as well.

        Like mickysavage I am not an NZF supporter nor ever have been, but I don't like government agencies playing favourites with political parties and this smacks of favouritism.

    • tc 6.2

      Nope labour should re-consider the legislation Clark was proposing that turned them into an organised crime agency.

      The next PM, Banksta JK, binned it and charted a different course for the regulatory bodies.

    • Pat 6.3

      If 'concerned individuals' had taken court action to delay the release of findings then it would be reasonable to expect that information to become known to interested parties…no need for official heads ups.

      “Newly released judgements show the SFO had originally planned to announce the charges last week, only for New Zealand First to seek a High Court order barring the agency from revealing the news until a government had been formed after the election.”

      https://www.newsroom.co.nz/two-charged-over-nz-first-foundation-donations

    • Gabby 6.4

      Doubling the funding and setting up a donations and trusts sub department.

  6. Jae 7

    This is tinfoil hat territory, in my opinion. The NZFF and National Party Donation investigations have been treated almost exactly the same: Investigation announced, and when investigation has been concluded, the charges announced. The announcements were legally specific – in the JLR case, the investigation was into the donors and how their money was split up and solicited by JLR. In the NZFF, the investigation was into the foundation as a whole.

    Further to that, the SFO are legislatively mandated to only prosecute cases where they are highly positive they can win. This is largely because fraud law in particular is ridiculously dense and vague and tautological – largely you can only commit fraud if you commit your fraud fraudulently. This isn't going to be solved by going after the SFO, it's only going to be solved by actually changing the laws to make them clear. Hell, there's not even any precedent or guidance in the law to state how much investigation a Party Secretary has to do into corporate donors, meaning that all the multiple $14,999 donations sent through different corporations fly under the radar.

    The people here saying that the SFO should have what, hidden their investigation until after the election is just ridiculous, in my opinion. Giving the public more information is something we should want from our public service, especially the parts around corruption. It isn't the SFO's job to keep parties clean or to try and get dirt to stick to them, that's the media's job and our job to sort through it. The fact that the Nats have come out relatively clean after the JLR Fiasco isn't the SFO's fault, it's the medias fault for basically deciding that anything that is legal is perfectly ethical.

    I fail to see why people on this site are leaping to the defense of a grubby, unethical party, who diverted funding for regional development to build a racing tack in Christchurch that benefitted their Horse Studding donors. The closest I get to an argument is that National are also grubby and unethical, and that's not an argument. Especially since there was an investigation into the Nats that had almost the exact same result as the NZFF one!

    Note to Mods: this is the 'James' who was commenting on yesterdays SFO article. I have changed the name to be distinguished from the apparent troll who has the same name, to my chagrin.

    • mickysavage 7.1

      When the National Party investigation was announced they did not name the party. I am not sure why they did not follow the exact same model in this case. And why announce that the investigation would be wound up before the election? Investigations need to take as long as they need to take.

      • Jae 7.1.1

        They didn't name the party in the NZFF case. As Winston is so fond of saying, "The New Zealand First Foundation is totally seperate" sarcastic eyeroll But yeah, the difference was that the National investigation wasn't into the Nats finances, they recieved the 8 donations from 8 seperate people and current law makes that a non-issue. The investigation was on the donors end to discover whether they split it illegally. They weren't investigating the National party or anything that had the National Party's name on it. It's a dumb difference to be sure, as everyone knew it was in relationship to the National party, but as an investigatory agency the SFO has to follow the dumb letter of the legal specifics.

        • Dennis Frank 7.1.1.1

          Your reasoning seems valid. I didn't comment in support of NZF, just to point out the double standard that the establishment in Aotearoa is operating. Happy to see NZF permanently exit the scene!

          I agree re law-changes necessity as remedial governance. Public faith in democratic process is contingent on the general perception of fairness & a level playing field. If you're a lawyer, you may not see the import of such mass psychology.

          Just because I got cynical from observing the system long ago, yet managed to retain some naive faith in common sense, doesn't mean others won't spiral into despair as a result of their ideals being defeated by reality. The pandemic reminds us that many are thus vulnerable. Defenders of the system ought to shift from denial of wrongdoing into fix-it mode…

        • mickysavage 7.1.1.2

          SFO National release:

          "The Serious Fraud Office has received a referral by the Police about a complaint they received in October last year in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act.

          The SFO does not disclose the detail of ongoing investigations to protect the integrity of the investigation and those involved. The SFO has no further comment to make."

          SFO NZ First release:

          "The Serious Fraud Office has today commenced an investigation in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation."

          Spot the difference?

    • greywarshark 7.2

      Jae That's quite a lot of dense info and as I am rather dense it will take time to read but thank you for talking us through it . I caught the line –

      This is largely because fraud law in particular is ridiculously dense and vague and tautological – largely you can only commit fraud if you commit your fraud fraudulently.

      which is intriguing and I will enjoy reading on later I am sure.

      • Jae 7.2.1

        Oh, that's nothing compared to corruption law basically worldwide. It's entirely tautological – a bribe is only a bribe if it is done 'corruptly'.

        • greywarshark 7.2.1.1

          Jae – It becomes obvious that all the years Transparency International have been holding up our shiny mirrored escutcheon of righteousness, they never sampled you for reference.

          • Jae 7.2.1.1.1

            Well, that's because the Corruption Perceptions Index, which TI notes every time but everyone ignores only covers one very narrow area – how much corruption impacts upon business practice. But people don't like to read, they just like to look at the numbers. TI haven't actually been all that glowing about New Zealand in literally all their other work, especially around our donation law and government transparency work.

            • greywarshark 7.2.1.1.1.1

              Jae I hope you stay around. There are lots of good commenters here who know what they are talking about, so there are lots of precedents for you to follow.

    • Pat 7.3

      "Especially since there was an investigation into the Nats that had almost the exact same result as the NZFF one!"

      Yep…the fact that Winston has many political enemies (hes hardly alone it that) who would not hesitate to seize any opportunity to damage him is light years away from being able to influence any investigation ….as much as they may wish to be able to.

      As someone noted, the SFO were damned if they did and damned if they didnt, and the situation will be spun either way depending on agenda.

      At the end of the day what has anyone learnt?….nothing, party funding is widely known to be dodgy and a ruling on 'legality' changes little.

      • lprent 7.3.1

        Pretty much – been saying that sincevthe 1990s. But also that the SFO isn't capable of dealing with it.

        There seemed to me to be some pretty clear political positioning in how the SFO handled the timing of this investigation. I notice that you have been avoiding commenting on that aspect of the events. NZF may not be the most salubrious political party around- but I know of at least 3 political parties currently using this kind of lawful but morally repugnant donation regime.

        Regardless of the other aspects of our corruption driving political donation laws, the idea that a judicial authority seems to be operating on the basis that the ends justifies the means is just dangerous. That they appear to be picking when they act for maximum political effect is a praterion guard play.

        You know that if these kinds of idiots establish this as a modus operandi, it starts to corrupt every damn thing around it. We really don't want a state where a charging aspect of the state starts to act like Sydney cops of the 1980s. Or any of the thousands of other worse incidents through history.

        Better to clip the SFO out of history before they get too corrupt. The probable longer term consequences are worse than the benefits.

        • Pat 7.3.1.1

          "There seemed to me to be some pretty clear political positioning in how the SFO handled the timing of this investigation. I notice that you have been avoiding commenting on that aspect of the events."

          My sparse comment on the timing (the post you replied to was a comment on the timing) is quite simply because I see no problem with the timing or explanation given….as said they were damned if they did etc.

          As to the judiciary acting as 'praetorian guard' for the establishment …really? are we to expect them not to do the job they are designed to do?

          Corruption is indeed a very real risk, but the myth that corruption in NZ institutions hasnt and dosnt exist has always been that….it is the type of corruption that is at issue and in that I have concerns, particularly where it comes to the influence of money.

    • lprent 7.4

      Jae: I'm not jumping to their defense. That is your pig ignorant interpretation. Speaks more of your ignorance than anything else.

      What I am saying is that I smell the pattern of behaviour of corruption in the stupid laws we have governing political donations (they don't work). But also in the actions of a law enforcement body. The first does not excuse the second.

      Quite simply if the laws around political donations lend themselves to clear actions like 100k donations being broken up into 15k amounts for the benefit of a political party – but that benefit is not unlawful – then corruption is deep. It won't be corrected by some fuckwit vigilantes in the SFO doing the white sheet manovere and corrupting the legal system by making political moves to 'correct it'.

      That is a direct use of the argument that the ends justify the means. If you took the time to read an understand some history of where that exact approach has been used in the past you'll find that just making that the basis of action invariably causes major problems years or decades down the line.

      Do rather that making up your own fairy tales about what you think that we're saying, how about just reading what we actually say. Without your mindless embellishments.

  7. tc 8

    SFO/CommComm/FMA all ineffective by design and who you place up top IMO. Much like RNZ is currently but I digress.

    Part of Police aren't they so is the minster allowed to crack the whip as that judgement was due before pre-voting fortnight on the 17/9 initial pole date by the SFO's own timeline.

    They stated it which IMO infers they had the issue dimensioned, or were committing to that so to speak and put a commitment out there .

  8. Peter 9

    The National Harridan has Peters as a trophy head. "It's all over red rover," she reckons.

    To ponder:

    Sucking and sipping from a loafer at Whananaki Peters will have trophy heads looking down from the wall:

    Bill English

    Steven Joyce

    Paula Bennett

    Jonathan Coleman

    Had Peters gone with National in 2107 they'd be bullshitting us right now about how their 5th term would be their best.

    They look better on his wall.

    • Andre 9.1

      Peters going with National in 2107?

      I know he's the undead and all that, but he really makes it that long without copping a silver bullet or wooden stake? Fuck, we're screwed.

  9. PaddyOT 10

    Come on ! Stop hiding the real money theft, Judith with your companies and properties. (or any other benign Party ).

    Throwing money at the SFO is merely opportunistic, Judith is capitalising on headlines of Winston's demise and public naivety of these election party's monies being very puny in comparison to the billions of 'missing' tax by corporates.

    More needed and welcomed for every ordinary kiwi, would be an announcement of substantial money for IRD to boost resources for revamping of corporate tax laws, a larger resourcing with personnel for huge tax investigations with a global money trail eg. fake foreign loans to write off tax in NZ for property.

    When evasion or avoidance is pervasive, specialist tax accountants become more creative the bigger the corporate profit becomes in either legal cheating through loopholes or dispersing of tax on profits by transferring monies to a corporate entity's other businesses. ( eg. Trump's fifteen years ).

    "A good example is the capitalisation of debt to equity for a company in financial difficulty or the introduction of a holding company as part of a corporate group restructure."

    Without tax law changes for big Corporations to collect a fairer tax revenue from massive profits made in NZ, it is then a fiscal and social debt on ordinary workers to suffer from or make up the shortfall.

    More rigorous tax laws would also stop large costings of drawn out Court cases at NZers expense and Big corporate lawyers milking millions.

    https://www.findex.co.nz/insights/article/tax-avoidance-the-real-tax-issue-in-2019

    " Information of more than 100 multinational corporations and their New Zealand subsidiaries showed that, had the New Zealand branches of these 20 firms reported profits at the same healthy rate as their parents, their combined income tax bill would have been nearly $490 million."

    The Green's Shaw said the potential sums involved vastly exceeded other areas of government priority for enforcement and could be put to good use.

    "It obviously exceeds benefit by several orders of magnitude. That $500m could pay for 26,000 hip operations, 4,000 doctors or 7500 cops. This is a boatload of money," he said. "

    An interactive from the Herald.
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11607336

    Instead in NZ, without full resourcing, we have arguably an IRD chasing up relatively pithy money.

    https://media.ird.govt.nz/articles/?tags=Court%20cases

  10. RedBaronCV 11

    Regardless of the mass of strict technicality I find myself falling back on one thing – that the dollar amounts involved in any NZF investigation will be orders of magnitude smaller than any involved in whoever funds the National party which we have never found out despite the rules. And $50k buys a heck of a lot more then $5k

  11. PF 12

    If you ask this question then you have to ask the more troubling question around the timing of the sentencing of the Mosque killer.

    There seems to be an uncanny synchronous between statements by politicians and judical outcomes.

    • lprent 12.1

      You’d have to look at what is the root of the legal system – ie legislation in parliament. All criminal law is encoded in legislation in NZ. Legislators, past and present in a parliamentary system, discuss and write that legislation. That body of legislation and the discussions surrounding it both here and in other countries provides the guidelines for judges to interpret the legislation. It is hardly surprising that given that there is a common framework and understanding between waht politicians believe will happen and what the courts actually do. The appropriate behaviour for judges is crystallised in legislation and in the precedents based on that legislation.

      There are those ignorant and foolish nutbars who seem to think that law isn’t a human-made institution, but is something handed down by something like a miraculous appearance of now missing tablets. Those idiots wave Blackstone, religious and common law around like absolute condom against progress in the legal system.

      However invariably when I test fools on their knowledge and understanding of the history and reasoning of each of those bodies of accumulated knowledge. They invariably fall short. All of those bodies of legal knowledge, then you look through the sources, explicitly do not treat anything inside their legal frameworks as being absolute. What you find is that at some point, some human fool (for their own immediate reasons) cast an fractured and limited interpretation over a general principle because it made it simple enough for some dumbarses to get into a slogan.

      I’m afraid that frantic conspiracy dimwit with a fractured understanding of the process of law trying to wave their misunderstanding of legal systems as talisman as a substitute for thinking really doesn’t impress me.

  12. PF 13

    There is a group of feminists that have been calling or an end to judical neutrality. IN other words , if your a women bend the system to the advantage of all women.

    So that group would be happy if this unusual timing by the SFO was the result of what traditionally would have been biased influence by the Director Julia Reid.

    https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2017/new-nz-law-book-shows-how-to-judge-like-a-feminist.html

    Its not irrational to ask the question if this is the cause if those of that ilk are literally calling for it to occur and there are consistent female appointments to most senior positions.

    • lprent 13.1

      While I realise that you're probably some kind of misogynist uncivilised primitive incapable of thinking past your dick and your bigotry. But perhaps you'd listen to an outline of some basic facts. Who knows, you may not have the head of solid rotting granite that I visualise based on your two comments I let through moderation purely so I could answer them.

      When I went through university 43 years ago, I looked at doing law. I decided against it mostly because I could see the flood of people heading towards that . More than 30% of those then were women. Less than 8 years later my partner started to do her law degree. At that time the intake of women into law courses was close to even.

      They were also averaging better marks than the men (especially my partner). From what I understand that better quality of work from women continues into the law firms. Certainly in my occasional dealings with law professionals, lawyers and judges, over the decades I've never noticed anything except good quality from any gender – even the reduced cohort of beleaguered men.

      That change in the rate of women admission rate to law hasn't changed – it has merely increased. A brief search on google and you get (for instance) Auckland University Faculty of Law stats from 2016. See Figure 6a: Faculty and Large Scale Research Institute (LSRI) EFTS by gender 2016. I see that women were 60.8% of the students.

      That is despite the still routine harassment of the dickhead males in the students and even the faculty. The same continues into law firms. Frankly given that obstacle course you can guarantee that only the very best and most dedicated of women reach the position of judges. The process that judges them is far harder than that governing the men of law.

      It has been 30 odd years since my partner graduated. You'd expect, just under a normal progression of students to professionals to seniors, that there would be an increase in the appointments of women judges in line with the intake. There isn't – it falls far short. However quality and experience eventually shatters almost any glass ceiling. Especially when there are more women gaining the required skills to even enter law as an undergraduate than the minority of men.

      While I suspect that this explanation won't make any difference. Fortunately I suspect that you're irrelevant to the discussion anyway. People who prefer to deal with myths rather than facts are largely irrelevant in the long run.

  13. georgecom 14

    Interesting move from National. Maybe they think that because the SFO has had some work from National and Collins in the past that it needs a funding boost in anticipation of future work from Collins and National?

    Not stating anything, just asking the question

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