27 Jun 2022

Peters' absence from court leaves holes in Crown's case, defence argues

9:28 pm on 27 June 2022

Only Winston Peters can prove the Crown's case in the New Zealand First Foundation trial, the defence camp has argued.

The High Court at Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

It delivered its closing arguments in the High Court at Auckland today, bringing this month's three week judge-alone trial to an end.

Justice Jagose reserved his decision; saying he'd deliver it "reasonably promptly" though it will still likely be a matter of weeks away.

Today, defence lawyer Tudor Clee argued the Crown hadn't proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and had crucially failed to call a key witness in its own case.

Over the past three weeks, New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters has been repeatedly mentioned yet the trial hasn't heard any evidence from him.

This was a focal point of the defence's closing arguments today; Clee arguing that without Peters the Crown's case did not stack up.

"The Crown says that Mr Peters, who plainly trusted [one of the defendant's] simply proceeded on the basis... that it had been ensured that everything was legal; that he too was oblivious as to what was really going on.

"What the Crown is effectively saying is that Mr Peters was duped and if that's the case what is the point in not calling him?"

Winston Peters.

The defence argued Winston Peters' absence leaves holes in the Crown's case only he can fill. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Closing the Crown's case last week, prosecutor John Dixon QC said if Peters had known what was going on there would be evidence of him colluding with the defendants.

The two men, who have enjoyed interim name suppression since they were charged in September 2020, are accused of obtaining nearly $750,000 by deception.

The court has heard this money was deposited into the bank account of either the foundation or one of the defendant's private businesses.

Many of the donors have said they believed they were donating to the New Zealand First Party or Winston Peters himself.

The Crown alleges the accused employed a 'fraudulent device, trick or stratagem' to deceive the New Zealand First party; it's leader and its board to obtain and control the funds.

The trial has heard from an array of New Zealand First characters; a party secretary, former MP and operations manager, but not Peters.

Clee today argued his absence leaves holes in the Crown's case only he can fill.

"He was and remains the leader, the senior executive of the party and was present at all material times in this case. He is readily available; even the Speaker of the House could find him to serve a trespass notice."

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has the power to compel someone to give evidence in court.

In court today Clee went as far as inferring the SFO decided against forcing Peters to give evidence out of fear he would contradict their case.

It's an allegation prosecutor John Dixon QC said the judge should dismiss; saying there was no evidence to support this.

"There is no evidence one way or the other on that before your honour and in fact it's misleading because he did in fact answer questions but I'm not going to go into that because I'm not going to give evidence from the bar."

The men are accused of mishandling political donations but they're charged with obtaining by deception under the Crimes Act.

Tudor Clee criticised how the case had developed over the past few years today, saying it had amounted to "a suspicion searching for a statute".

"This was an attempt by the SFO to shoehorn an offence under the Electoral Act into the Crimes Act and that provides perhaps the most succinct explanation of why the Crown struggled so much over two years to simply find a way of explaining what happened."

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