12 Apr 2021

Māori Party undeclared donations referred to police

5:44 pm on 12 April 2021

Volunteers who misinterpreted the rules are to blame for the Māori Party's failure to declare more than $300,000 in donations, the party's president says.

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Electoral Commission has referred the Māori Party to the police after it failed to declare more than $300,000 in donations.

Any donation of over $30,000 must be declared to the Commission within 10 working days of it being received.

Three donations above that threshold were made to the Māori Party between March and October last year, but were not declared to the Commission until recently.

John Tamihere donated a total of $158,000 over 2020, Aotearoa Te Kahu donated $120,000 and the National Urban Māori Authority donated a little under $50,000.

The Electoral Commissions said the referral was made on Friday, 9 April, and it would not be making any further comment.

Māori Party President Che Wilson said the mistake was made by party volunteers who were "learning the ropes as they went along".

"We took over a party that had broken down and as part of the rebuild as volunteers when we got into the thick of the campaign we misinterpreted how we had to report things, so we reported them late.

Che Wilson, at the annual Tira Hoe Waka Whanganui River pilgrimage, January 2019.

Māori Party President Che Wilson Photo: RNZ

"As soon as we found out about it we made contact but that was when we were doing the final wrap up of the reporting for the entire election."

Once party volunteers realised their mistake, four or five weeks ago, they contacted the Electoral Commission, Wilson said.

"We've been working with them since to make sure that doesn't happen again," he said.

The party is "mindful" of the significant consequences it could now face, Wilson said.

"That's why we made sure, as soon as we realised, to do things and work it out."

"We want to work with the Electoral Commission and police to ensure this never happens again."

Wilson told Checkpoint the money came through Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere.

"John was able to secure that," he said.

Wilson said he realised the funds were not declared when he was going through the returns.

It was his responsibility to look at party donations.

"That's my mistake."

He said the large amount was missed by the team of volunteers "in the middle of the election and Covid stuff".

"We slipped up, so we've got to work through that now, so we can follow processes going forward.

"[The buck] does stop with me, but as a team, we've got to tidy up all our processes."

He would not say if he would stand down following this blunder and if he is found to have acted inappropriately.

"I can't comment on that until we know what the decision is and what the people want."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs