10 Jun 2022

New Zealand First's secretary warned foundation could compromise party, court told

4:38 pm on 10 June 2022

The High Court has heard New Zealand First's former secretary once warned secrecy around the New Zealand First Foundation could expose the party to prosecution.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

Photo: justice.govt.nz

It is now the fourth day of the trial of two men accused of deceptively obtaining $750,000 the Crown says should have been treated as political donations.

New Zealand First's former secretary Anne Martin was responsible for reporting party donations during the time of the alleged offending.

Prosecutor John Dixon QC took her through a series of board meeting minutes and emails in the High Court at Auckland today.

They show Winston Peters pitched support for the fund-raising website, at the centre of the court case, at a board meeting in 2015.

Peters said it would be "privately funded" and could boost the party at a "membership, donor and political level".

The minutes show board members and Martin queried the money required for a new system and got assurances it would cost nothing.

"From the information provided there was no cost to the party," she said today.

Minutes show she also asked about how donations to the new system would be reported at a later board meeting.

"I asked about $1500 and that's because of the level of detail, if you get to that level, you require [for the annual return]."

Anne Martin supported a new system to firm up funding for New Zealand First but correspondence shows she was troubled by the foundation's activities, or how little she knew about them.

Martin once wrote to the party's president, complaining she was being kept in the dark over its activities

"I have not enjoyed being outside the loop of financial information required to complete my responsibilities satisfactorily," the email said.

"The lack of information of the activities of the New Zealand First Foundation is an example of how the job of party secretary becomes compromised."

It is the Crown's case the accused obtained money that should have been treated as political donations by deception.

The defendants deny any criminal offending and say the evidence shows the foundation used the money as the party expected.

The court has now heard the foundation agreed to loan the party $73,000 when it was heading a shortfall after the 2016 general election.

Martin later liaised with the Electoral Commission about this loan, which told her it was illegal.

She told the court today that if she had known people were donating to the foundation she would have acted on it.

"If the donor believed they were donating to the party then that's where the donation should have gone," she said.

The court has heard the statements of 40-odd donors who gave money to the foundation, many of whom believed they were donating to New Zealand First or Winston Peters.

Martin, a member of the party since its genesis in 1993, has held various roles over the years but told the court that did not mean she called Winston Peters the boss.

"I don't call him the boss. It's not a term that women use. I've heard men use it a lot but I didn't see him as the boss."

The judge-alone trial before Justice Jagose continues.