19 Nov 2019

Winston Peters rejects accusations over NZ First Foundation

3:27 pm on 19 November 2019

NZ First leader Winston Peters has responded to allegations his party breached electoral law, saying he's confident the party has always acted within the law.

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Winston Peters Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The Electoral Commission has received one complaint and it will be seeking more information from the party.

New Zealand First has received tens of thousands of dollars in loans from the New Zealand First Foundation. Loans are not subject to the same disclosure rules as donations.

Media reports today have prompted further questions on how donations are handled.

This morning Mr Peters was making little comment except to defend the party's past conduct.

"Twenty-seven years we've obeyed the electoral law of this country, we've never deviated. The last time there were allegations like this was in 2008, there were three inquiries: the Serious Fraud Office, the police and the Electoral Commission - they all found us to be exonerated.

"We're not going to have this again," he told reporters.

In 2008 Mr Peters was censured by Parliament after the Privileges Committee found he should have declared a 2005 donation as a gift, and that he knowingly provided false or misleading information over pecuniary interests.

An SFO inquiry found no basis to lay fraud charges, but referred possible possible breaches of electoral law to police. A month later police found no offence was committed.

He stuck to his guns in a later statement - which he had said would set the record straight on the matter - saying he was confident the party had always acted within the law

In the statement he said declarable donations were "declared to the Electoral Commission".

"Our system of democracy is based on the secrecy of the ballot and privacy of party memberships and donations within specified limits," he said.

"We look forward to discussing this matter with the Electoral Commission."

Senior New Zealand First MP and government minister Tracey Martin said she "didn't know anything" about the New Zealand First Foundation and all she could say about the news reports was they "were interesting".

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett said the latest reports warranted more scrutiny.

"It certainly raises serious allegations around the law and around donations and I would suggest that others should be looking at it."

She was asked whether National was in any position to criticise due its past use of trusts for political donations, and with the complaint about the National Party still before the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

The "key to that is that is was in the past", she said, responding to the question about the use of trusts.

"At that time it was within the law. Changes have been made, changes that we supported and some of which we helped implement," Ms Bennett told reporters.

In March the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it was investigating allegations referred to it by the police, relating to National Party donations.

That followed former National MP Jami-Lee Ross taking allegations of electoral fraud and corruption against the party to police last year, claims leader Simon Bridges continues to deny.

National was "incredibly comfortable" as the matter went through the SFO, said Ms Bennett, "and we will obviously be doing everything we can to work with them and see that come through - perhaps the same needs to be applied here".

The Electoral Commission said it had received one complaint as a result of today's news coverage, but would not say who the complainant was.

It will request more information from the party about the Foundation and the way donations are handled.

The Commission can initiate inquiries of its own but due to a lack of investigative powers, would refer a matter to the police if it believed the law may have been breached.