27 May 2020

NZF Foundation spent $130k on company run by Winston Peters' lawyer

6:27 am on 27 May 2020

Tens of thousands in donor's funds given to the New Zealand First Foundation were spent paying expenses, wages and bills for people closely associated with the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Brian Henry and Winston Peters entering the High Court in Auckland

Brian Henry, left, with Winston Peters (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The foundation, which has bankrolled NZ First using secret donations from rich business people, spent more than $130,000 on a company run by Brian Henry - the personal lawyer and close friend of Peters.

Documents obtained by RNZ show that between January 2018 and July 2019, the foundation took in $224,000 in donations from supporters - and overall, spent at least $368,000.

Of that, at least $137,000 of foundation funds were spent on a company called QComms.

Company office records show the sole director and shareholder of QComms is Brian Henry, who is a trustee of the foundation and the judicial officer of the New Zealand First party.

The two people who did most of the work for QComms were also closely linked to the party.

Jamie Henry, Brian Henry's daughter, received $64,500 in wages and expenses, which included seven identical amounts, totalling $3010, referenced as 'rent'. All those costs were paid by the foundation.

Jamie Henry would not comment when contacted by RNZ.

The other key worker for QComms was John Thorn, who received $61,000 in wages and expenses in just over a year, all paid by the foundation.

Thorn, who has now left the party, was the vice-president for the South Island and the NZ First official who authored a paper first setting out a proposal that the party establish the New Zealand First Foundation.

Thorn's paper was presented at a March 2017 New Zealand First party board meeting where leader Winston Peters and Ron Mark, his deputy at the time, were present.

Peters was then asked to find a suitable lawyer to set up the foundation. Later in 2017, Brian Henry became a foundation trustee, along with Doug Woolerton, a former NZ First MP who now runs his own lobbying firm.

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John Thorn authored the proposal to set up the NZF Foundation Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Asked if he knew anything about the payments to QComms, Peters said he had nothing to do with it "in that context".

"I think you should ask Mr Henry or the Serious Fraud Office."

He said he was "absolutely relaxed about that" and would not comment further.

Brian Henry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

QComms controlled NZF membership database

The foundation bank account, which Peters has said in media interviews is controlled by Brian Henry and Woolerton, also made five payments referencing the two trustees' initials, BH and DW.

The payments, spread across five days in July 2019, were all made to the same bank account and total just over $20,000. All payments reference Brian Henry or one of his companies, although it's unclear why the money was paid.

The exact role of QComms is unclear but it appears to have acted as an intermediary between the foundation and the New Zealand First party, handling the party's electronic communications.

QComms had a contract with the New Zealand First party but the contents of that contract appear to have been closely guarded even from senior party officials.

RNZ obtained an email sent by New Zealand First treasurer Holly Howard to New Zealand First's auditor, John Lennie, on 1 August, 2019 asking for the details of the contract.

In the email, subject-lined "QComms contract required', Howards asks: "Hi John. Just checking if you had anything from Brian Henry on this yet? I wanted to touch base before I chase him on it."

Neither Howard nor Lennie, whose Auckland accountancy firm Lennie & Associates has audited the New Zealand First electoral returns for more than a decade, would comment when contacted by RNZ.

Brent Catchpole, who was president from 2015 to 2018, said QComms had "very little" involvement with New Zealand First while he was president and he had no recollection of a contract between the party and the foundation.

"I'm not aware of signing a contract with QComms," he said. "I didn't enter into any contract with QComms as president."

When asked what QComms did he said the company controlled the New Zealand First party membership database.

"It's a company that leases the database to New Zealand First," he said. "They hold the license and they lease it to NZ First."

QComms also appears to have managed the New Zealand First web platforms.

The documents obtained by RNZ show New Zealand First paid NationBuilder and Voxara - two American tech companies which run membership and donation systems for political parties.

Voxara and NationBuilder sent multiple invoices to QComms. The bills, paid by the foundation, totalled $142,000 over 2018 and 2019.

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Bills for NZF's website were sent to QComms and paid by the Foundation Photo: RNZ

Payment made to Peters' partner

Peters' partner Jan Trotman also received a payment from the foundation, according to records seen by RNZ.

On 29 July last year, the foundation paid Trotman $3450. The transaction is recorded as "Reimburse-Flt" in what appears to be a reimbursing payment for a flight.

RNZ asked Trotman for details about why the foundation would pay for her air travel but she declined to comment.

She does not appear to have any official role with New Zealand First but has been involved in a business venture with Brian Henry and his son David.

Trotman is a director of New Zealand Future Forest Products (NZFFP), which applied unsuccessfully for a $15 million loan from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

Brian Henry was also a director of NZFFP at the time of the PGF application but Company Office records show he resigned that position on 19 February this year.

On 20 February this year the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) began a formal investigation into the foundation, after the Electoral Commission said it had received donations that should have been treated as party donations.

The SFO said last month it was on track to determine whether or not charges would be laid in relation to the foundation donations before the September election.

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