5 Feb 2020

NZ First Foundation donor thought they were giving to party

7:27 am on 5 February 2020

A company who made donations to the New Zealand First Foundation says it thought it was donating to the New Zealand First party.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Documents seen by RNZ show from 2017 to 2019, the mysterious foundation bankrolling New Zealand First had a pattern of receiving donations just under the $15,000 threshold, after which donors names are made public.

The donations came from entities connected with some of the country's wealthiest business people.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters says his party has done everything by the book.

Peters refused to answer questions on the revelations at Waitangi today, criticising media for turning Waitangi into a "political farce".

"We're here to look at Waitangi, if you don't want to talk about Waitangi you're talking to the wrong guy, see you guys," he said.

In 2017, the Foundation received three separate donations from entities linked to the Van Den Brink family, which has made its fortune in the poultry business

But today Van Den Brink Group chief operating officer Michael Sheridan said the company had understood it was donating to the New Zealand First Party.

He said the company would not be commenting any further.

Documents seen by RNZ show the New Zealand First Foundation also received payments from two different companies owned by New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart, on the same day in March 2019.

In 2018, the Foundation received $40,000 in three separate payments from entities linked to Conrad Properties.

RNZ has tried to reach these donors for comment.

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis said no other party had a funding structure like this.

"We really have no clue whatsoever as to how it gets money, where it gets its money from and so on, which is information that in a democracy really is very, very important for the public to know," he said.

Neither Professor Geddis nor RNZ are alleging that any of the donors named in this story broke any laws or were trying to keep their donations secret.

But Geddis believed the Electoral Commission should look closely at how the donations have been handled.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges agreed there were some questions that needed answering.

"Were money to be passing from one to the other, above the limits and so on that are in electoral law. That it seems to me would on the face of it be a breach of the law and that to me seems to be where the questions are and what the Electoral Commission should be looking at."

But Peters said these reports are "laughable".

"What you saw this morning and what I've read is an utter joke, and pages and pages of how New Zealand First didn't break the law, observed the law in every respect," he said.

Peters said it was rich his party was the focus, when four people will appearing in court later this month in relation to donations paid into a National Party electorate bank account.

But Bridges said this was completely different.

"We've been cleared entirely of SFO matters because we always disclose our matters. We have in the past, we do today, and we will in the future," he said.

The Electoral Commission announced in November that it was seeking more information from New Zealand First and the New Zealand First Foundation.

It says it is still looking into the matter and expects to be able to provide an update in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, ACT Party leader David Seymour said the government should put the House into urgency when Parliament returns next week and clarify that multiple donations from related parties must be declared.

"Last year, New Zealand's most open and transparent government put the House into urgency for a minor crackdown on foreign donations.

"If it wants to be taken remotely seriously, it must now do the same for related-party donations", he said.

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