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SFO exonerates NZ First

Written By: - Date published: 5:51 pm, September 29th, 2020 - 56 comments
Categories: national, nz first, political parties, Politics, winston peters - Tags:

The SFO has put out a press release a few days before overseas voting starts. This was in

They have not laid charges against NZ First or anyone in it – excluding comprehensively…. It isn’t…

…a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.

I suspect that someone has been pointing out the civil law consequences of doing anything less….

They have laid charges…

The SFO has filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.

The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time.

I’d emphasise that the last sentence means that if you try to speculate about who the defendants here in any manner beyond what is said in the SFO statement, then I’m going to ban you for 3 years. That is our local law. Despite the curious association between “two defendants” and “New Zealand First Foundation” in that statement, there is nothing to indicate that there is a employment association between those two.

This result is what I was expecting back in April. Essentially the electoral donation laws in NZ are wide enough to shove several buses through side by side.

People may not like that, but the way to deal with that is express your contempt for all parties that do this kind of crap. National in particular are notorious for the use of external foundations who deal with donations. But currently doing this kind of influence peddling was part of what the Electoral Finance Act was designed to diminish back in 2007.

I’m sure that many of the hypocrites who decried that attempt at controlling political donations and influencing back then will be the most voracious on this decision. They were those in the forefront of removing that Act in 2008, and never creating anything to effectively diminish the problem.

Winston Peters rightfully points at this second legal run by political opponents against him and his party using the police and SFO as being a legal travesty. It was unfortunately lawful.

Personally I think that the complainants need to be looked at for deliberately wasting Electoral Commission, Police and SFO time and resources. I’d like to see the complainant(s) see charges of that against themselves to constrain another round of this kind of poor behaviour.

What does worry me is that it took so long for the police and SFO to deal with this. Coming out with results mere days before the voting starts feels to me to be a political interference in its own right.

BTW: I don’t like NZ First or most of it’s policies. However I also find the kind of political tripping that was so characteristic of the era of Dirty Politics to be more dangerous.

56 comments on “SFO exonerates NZ First ”

  1. James 1

    The SFO has total freedom to persue or not persue any case they want to, at the discretion of the current director, so the 'wasting time' response doesn't really hold water.

    I would hesitate about calling this an exonoration, in fact I'd argue deeply against it – just because NZF's activities were not covered by the law to the extend that the SFO could charge them, they absolutely benefitted from a foundation which has had charges brought against it. Think of it, if you like, as a political party getting a donation from a criminal.

    If you look at the people who were donating to the Foundation, and some of NZF's policy 'wins', a pattern emerges. They removed the betting levy against the express and outspoken opposition of the responsible governemnt department, the Attourney General derided the 'Manifesto Commitments' part of the Provincial Growth Fund as being an opaque 'fund within a fund' which opened the door for all kinds of abuse, and with that fund, they supported a race track in Christcurch, whose beneficiaries directly donated to them.

    You are right in one respect that this will only be solved through legislation and not the courts, but it is worthwhile to keep in mind that the SFO only charges if they believe they can almost certainly win. Even if a preponderance of evidence would be enough to file against Peters or NZF in general, unless it was an overwhelming amount, they would be unlikely to file charges.

    So it is absolutely valid to examine this case and call out NZF as being corrupt and unethical.

    • lprent 1.1

      So it is absolutely valid to examine this case and call out NZF as being corrupt and unethical.

      Only if you also call out National in exactly the same manner for this

      https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12309443

      Or for their previous and probably current 'lawful' foundations for harvesting donations. If you are confused by that statement, then I'm sure taht you will be enlightened.

      Or Act for their foundations for harvesting donations.

      BTW: I've let this and a couple of other comments through. Do you have a ban at present?

      [lprent: opps – clean up my own bad paste. ]

      • James 1.1.1

        Oh, I do absolutely agree. National are unethical and corrupt in how they handle donations and fundraising. Probably legal, but absolutely unethical and corrupt.

        I mean, pretty much any use of a Trust for political donations should be viewed, in my opinion, as unethical, as it fundamentally serves to hide and distract from links between policy and payment.

        edit No, I don’t have a ban. Just happen to be working on a whole written piece on the NZF stuff (after another piece on the JLR stuff) and broke my own usual ‘no blog commenting’ policy

        • lprent 1.1.1.1

          …broke my own usual ‘no blog commenting’ policy

          I didn't remember one.

          • James 1.1.1.1.1

            No, as in, I, myself, the person called James, have a personal policy usually that I don't comment on blogs. Which I broke to talk about this particular story 'cos I happened to be working on the subject matter, which is why I'm not like, a regular commenter, does that make sense?

            I've been writing all day my brain is mush.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.2

          I mean, pretty much any use of a Trust for political donations should be viewed, in my opinion, as unethical, as it fundamentally serves to hide and distract from links between policy and payment.

          I still say that no legal entity should be able to give to political parties. By legal entity I mean any form of business, union, trust or anything else that is legally registered in any way, shape or form.

          As you say, such giving is inherently corrupt as it hides its purpose.

          EDIT:
          I’d also like to see a maximum donation of $1000 per person per year. Force the parties to become mass member parties again.

      • Incognito 1.1.2

        This “James” is different from the other notorious “James”, who is not having a ban at present.

        • James 1.1.2.1

          I am very confused and am questioning my own existance now.

          • Incognito 1.1.2.1.1

            There is another regular commenter with the same user name as you who likes to raise the ire of other commenters and draw the attention of Moderators here and who is occasionally rewarded with a ban.

            As far as I can tell, you have commented once before here on this site on 17th April 2019 and you used a different user name. If you had used that one again today, we would not be having this conversation 😉

            If you wish, and if you can recall, I can change your today’s comments to carrying that previous user name and hopefully all confusion will dissipate.

  2. weka 2

    do you think the timing was delayed? Or it's because of the change in election date?

    • lprent 2.1

      As RNZ pointed out

      Back in April, the SFO said it was on track to make a call before this year's election on whether to lay charges in relation to the investigation into the NZ First Foundation, which had been bankrolling the NZ First Party.

      Personally I'd say that it is suggestive that they actually managed make a public announcement 10 days after the expected election date of September 19th, and only managed to charge someone 4 days after that date suggestive.

      Sure, I can't prove that this timing was deliberate. But if you look at this as being a political move, then it does seem like the optimum time to let it trail out to.

      Certainly, it is suggestive enough that I'd like to leave that suspicion of payback of some form hanging over the SFO – who haven't exactly been loved by Peters in the past. Even if it was a (convenient?) coincidence – then I'm afraid that "no comment" by the SFO isn't going to be enough to allay my suspicion about their motives.

    • Anne 2.2

      Covid would have had something to do with it.

      • lprent 2.2.1

        I don't think so. based on the known allegations most of this would have been a 'paperwork' (mostly a computer) trail rather than a lot of interviewing. It is rather hard to see how it could have caused a delay

    • lprent 3.1

      From that link I liked…

      New Zealand First has instructed its lawyers to take legal action against the SFO, seeking declarations the agency has abused its statutory powers.

      Even if what they did was within the their lawful bounds, then I think that there is a case that individuals there need to answer.

  3. millsy 4

    What about the two people charged?

    Im confused?

    I know it doesn't take much to confuse me, but still….

    • James 4.1

      They have interim name suppression – likely not for long – but because of this publicly speculating on who they are is a violation of that court order.

    • Pat 4.2

      [deleted]

      [lprent: You are making presumptive speculation. Do you want to be banned? ]

      • James 4.2.1

        Mods, just to be extra careful, this technically violates the name suppression, Pat is speculating the relationship between the charged individuals and the New Zealand First Foundation and Party, which is outside the bounds of what information was released by the SFO

      • RosieLee 4.2.2

        [deleted]

        [lprent: ditto. ]

      • Pat 4.2.3

        beg your pardon?….there was nothing there that wasnt less than an hour expressed on RNZ and is still available

        • lprent 4.2.3.1

          Read exactly what they say more carefully. They are also being very careful.

          • Pat 4.2.3.1.1

            I have.

            It says

            'The NZ First Foundation only exists because the NZ First Party Board decided to set it up , and to set it running , so its very hard to say how these two things can be seperate when the NZ First Party, it decided it wanted to set this thing up and then the NZ First Party benefited from the NZ First Foundation paying its bills"

            • lprent 4.2.3.1.1.1

              On a superficial level that may be correct.

              On a legal level because of the separation or legal entities you'd have to show clear control to go past what was in the authorising documents.

              But at a more basic level – that you are clearly being too dense to understand. – you'd also have to show me that the two people charged had anything to do with the NZ First Foundation.

              To do so would inherently involve you and me in a direct violation of a court order. That is what I meant when I said presumption. The statement from the SFO did not state who the individuals charged were or how they were associated with the investigation.

              I trust that you now understand this is that last time I will point this out to you.

    • lprent 4.3

      I think that the ambiguity could be a result of the court orders about employment. However I'd point out that in the post-National party fallout for Jami Lee Ross was fraud charges against him and three (presumed) donors. The latter was presumably because the donors were assessed as knowingly doing an unlawful act by the charging authority.

      It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with the NZ First Foundation because it could be someone claiming to act for them

      There is literally no way here to know, speculate, or opine until the court orders are lifted. "Obtaining by deception" could be anything in a chain of behaviour from con artists purporting to act for someone to almost anything else.

      Offhand I can think of a number of possible scenarios. So speculating on who it might have been charged is not going to happen here.

      • Pat 4.3.1

        To quote Andrew Geddes (in the RNZ link)…"I don't buy it"

        Plausible deniability by design

        • lprent 4.3.1.1

          Of course it is. That really isn't a question. What the SFO had to look at was "is how it is designed lawful?".

          Unfortunately that is the case. Just as the Waitemata Foundation was. Many tax avoidance schemes are. The legalised murder in the armed forces is. That the way police shootings are justified. That doctors get away with murder by neglect often is. The way that ACC makes their payment decisions often is.

          These are just a series of things that I know are lawful, but which could easily be construed as being immoral by many who comment here.

          However we express our collective decision on these by the actual legislation we put in place.

          If you want to change any of these then that is a political move. That you can express here.

          Just wanting to violate court orders by inference or presumption is something that you can't do here. You can of course follow the the method of the last paragraph of our About.

          But you'd note at the bottom of the site who is authorising what is said on this site…

    • McFlock 4.4

      two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case.

      My italics.

      Cases can be wide-ranging, and when you start turning over rocks you might find stuff other than what you were specifically looking for. Could be nearly anyone for anything, except anyone in NZ1.

  4. Gareth Wilson 5

    I'd advise Winston Peters to explain who "Comey" is before describing something as "Comey-level".

  5. Anne 6

    What I find gob-smacking is Collins' announcement today of a huge increase to the SFO's funding… in order to fight corruption.

    Judy dear,

    Have you forgotten the corruption committed by several National administrations going back to the Waitemata Trust in the 1970s? Have you forgotten the revelations, courtesy of Nicky Hager, only 5 or so years ago? No, you haven't forgotten the latter because you're now attempting to rewrite history by projecting the guilt back onto Hager!

  6. observer 7

    It doesn't exonerate them. No Right Turn and Andrew Geddis are closer to the mark.

    As I said on Open Mike, the timing is the worst. That's a legitimate complaint. But a separate issue.

    • lprent 7.1

      I just used the phrase that Peters did. I suspect that he meant it as ironically as I did. Our legal system inherently relies both presumption of innocence and an permanent assumption of possible guilt.

      I'd also point out that by their definition (and for that matter the legal basis for not laying charges) it is literally impossible to exonerate anyone. Police assume that everyone is guilty of something – because they usually are. However the actual test is if there is enough evidence to convict of some particular offence. That is a far harder test

      Hell, if someone was under investigation for a murder that they hadn't committed, then they would still wind up as being in a state of "insufficient evidence to charge". Exoneration doesn’t exist in our legal system.

  7. James 8

    As a related note, it would seem to me that the Serious Fraud Office, through this and the other cases being brought, is seeking for the courts to clarify and set in precedent some hazy aspects of the law. For example, the degree to which party officials and recievers of donations are obligated to investigate their donors for potential donation splitting. There is currently no legal guidance on how thoroughly a party secretary must investigate companies donating to the party to see if any of them are owned by the same individual. With luck, the fact that these laws are so muddy will prompt the next term of parliament to fix and make the laws more clear and improve transparency.

  8. Ad 9

    With the SFO investigations into Labour and National still ongoing, the SFO would be shown as egregiously biased against New Zealand First if those investigations were released after polls close.

    • James 9.1

      The SFO investigation into National is not ongoing – they have made and annoucned the charges. I don't know what stage the Labour one is.

      • lprent 9.1.1

        Yes, and National are just as “not guilty” as NZ First are, for what look to be exactly the same reasons. Insufficient evident to be able to convict.

        The Labour one will certainly wind up the same way.

        As I said earlier – the legal basis of political donations is wide enough to drive several buses through. Personally I think that the only realistic way to effectively deal with it is to make it illegal to make donations to political parties or politicians.

        Of course that solution does open its own can of worms.

        • James 9.1.1.1

          Nah, the only realistic way to deal with it is to tax all the people with enough money to donate to parties to the point where they can't afford to any more!

          • Barfly 9.1.1.1.1

            Wow what a splendid idea! Oh wow you are taking the piss? Oh gee never mind 🙂

            • James 9.1.1.1.1.1

              Only half taking the piss to be honest. Influence peddling is intrinsically linked to wealth – as long as there are wealth interests (as in people or groups of people with high wealth and specific policy interests regarding that wealth and control of it and its sources) there will be attempts to gain undue influence. Democracy is incompatible with Capitalism without corruption.

      • Ad 9.1.2

        Charges were laid in the National case, but I wasn't aware that the trial had completed. Is that the case?

        • James 9.1.2.1

          "Investigation is ongoing" means that the SFO are trying to discover information. Right now in the National case they've found everything they need to and are just arguing in court. It is the same situation the NZFF stuff is in: they have completed the investigation, and now move on to prosecuting based on the information gathered.

  9. Pat 10

    "Peters' party also unsuccessfully attempted to injunct the SFO from revealing it had laid charges over the foundation until after the October 17 election, newly released court documents show."

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

  10. Chris T 11

    It is an aside and apologies if it is off-topic, but the SFO don't half have some full on powers with their investigations. Was reading the bill the other day.

  11. Stunned Mullet 12

    https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/assets/cases/New-Zealand-First-Party-v-The-Director-of-the-Serious-Fraud-Office-2502.pdf

    ORDER PROHIBITING PUBLICATION OF THE JUDGMENT, THE APPLICATION AND ALL MATTERS RELATING TO IT UNTIL 5 PM FRIDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2020 UNLESS THE COURT OTHERWISE ORDERS.

    I consider there is a significant public interest in the New Zealand voting public being informed during an election campaign about criminal charges of serious fraud against people or organisations related to political parties.

    Ultimately, I consider the public interest in transparency outweighs the inconvenience of the announcement to NZ First. I do not consider the Court is justified in inhibiting the value of that transparency for the New Zealand public. It will be up

    to the political system including the media, rather than the judicial system, to ensure the transparency of the announcement is not obscured by confusion and misinformation.

    • Barfly 12.1

      /shrug??

      • Stunned Mullet 12.1.1

        Why would one want a complete media ban until after the election if one and one's colleagues and party had been completely exonerated ?

        • Hanswurst 12.1.1.1

          The two most obvious reasons that I can see are:

          1. because one is oneself, or one's associates are, guilty of significant misconduct.
          2. because one knows that there is a strong chance that all that will come out before the election will be 'two unidentified individuals have been charged in connection with the NZ First Foundation case', and that many in politics and the media will do their damnedest to make sure that the terms 'charged' and NZ First' appear as close together as posssible, as often as they can, preferably with the words 'scandal', 'hypocrisy' and 'unprecedented' liberally sprinkled around them.
        • Incognito 12.1.1.2

          It will be up to the political system including the media, rather than the judicial system, to ensure the transparency of the announcement is not obscured by confusion and misinformation.

          Winston Peters is having to fight harder than ever before for his political survival and he’s made few friends in the media.

          You are taking a high risk if you continue to go down this path of commenting.

  12. ken 13

    It will be sad to see Winston go, but he probably would have been higher in the polls now if he hadn't tried to stymie the government at every turn.

    I'm picking that he learned his financial gymnastics when he was a Nat.

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