Can we trust this trust?

October 27, 2008

Within a very short time of Wintson Peters announcing that the Susan Couch Victims of Crime Trust had been given $80,000 by New Zealand First several blogs had the story behind the story.

Today the story entered the mainstream media and Emily Watt wrote:

A trust set up to receive half the misspent $158,000 that NZ First was ordered to repay was not registered till three months after Winston Peters announced he had donated the money to charity, documents reveal.

The Dominion Post revealed on Saturday that NZ First paid $78,000 to a charity set up in the name of Susan Couch, the sole survivor of the 2001 RSA murders.

Ms Couch has said she has no idea how much money was paid into the trust, and Mr Peters has said she had not yet received any of the money, as it remains in the trust’s bank account.

Mr Peters’ so-called “blood-brother” and lawyer Bryan Henry, his solicitor Dennis Gates, and Mr Henry’s colleague Brian Coburn have full control over how the money is spent, including the ability to pay themselves all reasonable expenses.

Mr Henry is also acting for Ms Couch, winning a landmark Supreme Court ruling allowing her to sue the Corrections Department. He has said he is working for free.

So: the trust wasn’t established until three months after Peters said the party had made the donations; Peters’ lawyer who is also Miss Couch’s lawyer is a trustee and Miss Couch hasn’t received a cent from the trust.

Can we trust this trust and can we take Peters’ word about where the rest of the money went?

Even if we can it doesn’t absolve New Zealand First from its responsibility to repay the money it owes the tax payer.


Helping others with others’ money

October 25, 2008

Using other people’s misfortune for political advantage is despicable, using other other people’s money to do it is even worse.

Winston Peters refused to accept that he and his party did anything wrong when they used public money to pay for their 2005 election campaign but tried to get a political advantage by donating to charity the money they owed to the tax payer.

That back fired when Starship Hospital handed the cheque back. When other charities were reluctant to accept the money Peters announced they’d given it away but wouldn’t name the beneficiaries.

He’s now said  that $78,000 went to a trust set up by his lawyer, Brian Henry, to help victims of violent crime and “thousands” to the family of a disabled child.

Mr Peters confirmed yesterday that $78,000 was given to The Susan Couch and Crime Victims Charitable Trust, named for the survivor of RSA triple-killer William Bell.

Henry is also the lawyer for Susan Couch, but he is working for her for free so there is no suggestion he has anything to gain from this donation.

That’s beside the point anyway because the trust, its trustees, beneficiaries and the people associated with them are irrelevant. So too is the identity of any other recipients of the party’s money. I am not questioning their need for help nor the right of any individual or group to help them.

What matters is that Peters has used donations to worthy causes for political ends and NZ First still owes the tax payer $158,000.

They don’t appear to be spending much on their campaign, probably because they don’t have much to spend, but every cent they are spending is a cent they owe us.

Foot note: The Dominion reports all other parties have repaid the money they owed:

Auditor-General Kevin Brady’s investigation into how parties used taxpayer funds for expenses before the 2005 election found that a total of $1.2 million was misspent – mostly on election advertising. Labour was the biggest offender, with $824,524. The NZ First figure was $157,934, National $11,912, Greens $87,192, UnitedFuture $71,867, ACT $20,114 and the Maori Party $54. All, apart from NZ First, have repaid the money.


Peters names one charity

October 24, 2008

Winston Peters has named a charity New Zealand First donated to in the mistaken belief this would absolve it of the responsibility of repaying the $158,000 of tax payers’ money it used to fund its last election campaign.

TV One News said he’d told them the party gave $78,000 to the trust set up for Susan Couch, the only survivor of the 2001 RSA murders.

The Herald reported in 2006 that she was virtually destitute, unable to work five years after the attack and was being helped by the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

Who or what the party gives its money to is between it and those who donate to it, but no matter how worthy the recipient of its donations NZ First still owes the public purse $158,000.

Until it repays that money every cent it spends on its campaign is money it owes us and tells us getting re-elected is more important to it than doing the right thing.

Update: TV1 doesn’t have this story on line yet, but I did a search for her name on the site and came across an interview with her lawyer  who happens to be Brian Henry who is also Peters’ lawyer.

Update 2: TVNZ now has the story on line here.


How many stories are there ?

September 18, 2008

Chicane


It’s a long story

September 16, 2008

 

Brian Henry admitted to the privileges committee  this morning that he and Winston Peters had a poor recollection of events and:

. . . their earlier story did not now seem correct.

He acknowledged that Mr Peters must be the client referred to but said that did not conclusively show Mr Peters’ solicited a donation towards his legal fees.

Not conclusively? What about beyond reasonable doubt?

As Keeping Stock  puts it this story get more bizarre by the day; and Matthew Hooton suggests there might be another chapter involving the IRD.

 


Enough’s enough

September 12, 2008

The Dominion Post has had enough:

Prime Minister Helen Clark’s course of action is now clear. Mr Henry has been invited to reappear before the privileges committee on Tuesday. When he does, he should bring with him two pieces of evidence. The first is telephone records showing when he first called Mr Glenn to ask him to contribute toward Mr Peters’ legal costs, records which, if they exist, will disprove Mr Glenn’s assertion that he has never spoken to Mr Peters’ lawyer.

The second is the name of the “client” who advised him to approach Mr Glenn on Mr Peters’ behalf.

If Mr Henry is unable, or unwilling, to provide either, the prime minister should sack Mr Peters from her ministry.

For too long, he has trifled with the truth and danced on the heads of legal pins. By doing so, he would like his supporters to believe he has simply been refusing to dance to the tune of petty bureaucrats and the news media.

But what he has, in fact, been doing is showing contempt for Parliament, the law and the public. Remember, it was an audience member who asked Mr Peters at a Grey Power meeting in July to explain why NZ First had not declared money received from the Spencer Trust, a shadowy legal entity administered by his brother Wayne.

Mr Peters replied that: “Everything that [NZ First] was required to do within the law has been done,” has now been shown, by the party’s own admission that it broke electoral law, to be false.

Miss Clark should call the election.

Not only will it give her the political benefit of diverting attention from Mr Peters’ evasions, half-truths and falsehoods, it will give the public the opportunity to pass judgment on his shenanigans.

“Contempt for Parliament, the law, and the public …” not to mention his colleagues, his party, its members and the poor deluded souls who’ve believed the populist message he’s spent his political career spreading.


2nd Glenn letter increases heat

September 4, 2008

A second letter from Owen Glenn to the privileges committee contradicts WInston Peters again.

The letter said: “There is absolutely no doubt that the request came to me from Mr Peters. I would not have made the donation on any other basis through any intermediary. I did not do so.”

It was also revealed today that Mr Glenn will appear in person at the committee on Tuesday.

Implicit in Mr Glenn’s letter is a claim that Mr Peters telephoned Mr Glenn on December 14, 2005 and that Mr Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry followed up the call later that day with an email.

Mr Glenn said in the letter that he gave the authority for the payment instructions to be made on December 20, 2005 to be made to the account of Mr Henry.

“Mr Henry supplied the ASB Bank account details in an email from him addressed to me on Wednesday 14 December 2005,” Mr Glenn’s letter says.

That email from Mr Henry refers to an earlier telephone conversation between me and person Mr Henry refers to as ‘my client’ that same day.”

Mr Henry has given testimony to the privileges committee that he approached Mr Glenn to ask for a donation after being an advised to do so by a client of his, but he has emphatically stated that that client was not Mr Peters.

The committee prevented Mr Peters’ lawyer making a full statement at a hearing today.

Following tense exchanges, lawyer Peter Williams made a truncated presentation to the committee in which he said the decision it makes on New First’s donations should not be made on party lines.

He did not address the specifics of the donation from Mr Glenn to NZ First.

The committee had ruled that the broad statement Mr Williams was intending to make went outside its standing orders.

Mr Peters was present at the hearing but did not make any presentations of his own.

The committee is investigating whether Mr Peters broke Parliament’s rules by failing to declare a $100,000 donation from Mr Glenn towards his legal costs.

In a letter to the committee, made public last week, Mr Glenn said Mr Peters sought the $100,000 donation from him in 2005 and then thanked him for it at the Karaka yearling sales in early 2006.

Mr Peters has said it was his lawyer Brian Henry who approached Mr Glenn.

Parliament’s rules only allow legal counsel to talk about issues of process, but Mr Williams repeatedly argued that contributions to MPs’ legal petitions have never been considered a pecuniary matter.

He was repeatedly warned by committee chair Simon Power, but ignored those warnings and continued to outline Mr Peters’ argument.

After 25 minutes Mr Williams concluded his argument and the committee went into closed session.

Mr Peters has said he had no knowledge of the donation until Mr Henry advised him of it on July 18 this year.

Radio New Zealand’s political editor Brent Edwards is discussing the issue with Kathryn Ryan now. It is on line here.


Only one is telling the truth

August 27, 2008

The letters to the privileges committee  from Owen Glenn and Winston Peters tell two different stories. Which one will Helen Clark believe?

Tracy Watkins  points out that Peters’ future is in her hands:

The question now is whether Clark will cut her foreign affairs minister loose – or delay till the privileges committee issues its findings. But on the face of Glenn’s testimony she has little room to manoeuvre; her foreign affairs minister’s version of events surrounding the soliciting of money from a man who is also known to have expressed an interest in the position as New Zealand’s honorary consul to Monaco, differs greatly – and puts Peters job squarely on the line.

It is an allegation that goes to the heart of his credibility. Clark would seem to have little choice but to suspend Peters till the matters are cleared up, one way or another. She has suspended other ministers for less.

Peters has always said that Glenn donated $100,000 to his legal fund after being approached by his lawyer, Brian Henry. He says he knew nothing about this donation till Henry informed him in July.

This is what Glenn says:

“The payment was made by me to assist funding the legal costs incurred personally by Rt Hon Winston Peters MP concerning his election petition dispute, at his request. Mr Peters sought help from me for this purpose in a personal conversation, some time after I had first met him in Sydney.

“I do not know Mr Henry. I do not believe that we have met. I do not recall that I, or my assistants, had any discussion or communication with Mr Henry other than to receive remittance details.”

This is what Mr Peters says in relation to Glenn’s statement that the donation was made at his request.

“[This] is not factual and does not coincide with my recollections. I believe that I met Mr Glenn many years ago and on the weekend of 13 August, well before the 2005 election, in Sydney, Bledisloe Cup weekend which is the only time I met him in Australia. ”

Only one of them can be telling the truth.

Karl du Fresne  has some advice for the privileges committee:

They can start by asking a simple question: who has more to lose by telling the truth? Or perhaps I should turn that around and ask: who has more to gain by not being truthful? On the face of it, Glenn has nothing to gain by deceiving the committee. On the other hand, Peters is fighting for his life politically.

He also notes:

A disturbing sub-plot in the controversy is that the New Zealand First caucus meets today to decide whether to support Labour’s carbon emissions trading regime. This decision will have profound long-term economic consequences for New Zealand, and it calls for the most cautious and thoughtful deliberation. What chance of that when the embattled party leader and his increasingly insecure MPs have their minds on the much more immediate issue of their political survival?

The full text of the letters from Glenn and Peters follows the break. Read the rest of this entry »


Glenn says Peters solicited money

August 27, 2008

Owen Glenn  has told the privileges committee that Winston Peters asked him for money.

Peters disputes that.

Kathryn Ryan is discussing this with Radio NZ political editor Brent Edwards as I type. It will be on line here later.

There is no doubt there are enough allegations swirling round Peters now for him to have been relieved of his ministerial responsibilities had he been a Labour MP. The need for New Zealand First’s votes has stayed Helen Clark’s hand until now. but the mud which is being thrown at Peters will bog her down too if she allows this to go on much longer.

The allegations are still allegations and Peters maintains they’re wrong but the mud which is being thrown at Peters will bog Clark and Labour down too if she allows this to go on much longer.

Update: The Roarprawn has pointed me at the text of Glenn’s letter which says:

“The payment was made by me to assist funding the legal costs incurred personally by Rt Hon Winston Peters MP concerning his election petition dispute, at his request.

” Mr Peters sought help from me for this purpose in a personal conversation, some time after I had first met him in Sydney.

“I agreed to help in the belief that this step would also assist the Labour Party in its relationship with Mr Peters. I supported the Labour Party.”

Mr Glenn said the conversation had occurred “some time after I had first met him in Sydney” and he had authorised the payment on or about December 20, 2005.

He said Mr Peters had then thanked him at the Karaka yearling sales in early 2006. He did not believe he had ever met or spoken to Mr Henry.

In response Peters says:

… Mr Glenn’s assertion he had personally requested money “does not coincide with my recollections” and he said he believed the “personal conversation” referred to by Mr Glenn was one he had held with Mr Henry.

He also said he believed he had seen Mr Glenn while the two lunched at the same table at the 2007 Karaka sales, rather than in 2006.

Mr Peters said he had not thanked him until after Mr Henry advised him of the payment on July 18.

In response to that we have a contender for the award for stating the obvious:

Committee chairman Simon Power today said the two statements were inconsistent.


Lone crusader’s not alone

August 26, 2008

Tracy Watkins wrote of how  Winston Peters  is a lone crusader, at least in his own eyes.

To listen to the evidence given by Winston Peters’ lawyer and “blood brother” Brian Henry to Parliament’s privileges committee is to understand something of the strange, conspiratorial world the NZ First leader believes himself to dwell in.

 

It is a world in which Mr Peters apparently stands – alone and alert – against the forces of treachery, a world filled with foes in business, the media and government, a world in which he alone shines a light on the venal and corrupt.

Several blogs have commented on the column, including Keeping Stock, and  Inquiring Mind  and a quick trip around the blogosphere uncovers an unusual degree of unanimity on the faults of Peters and his party.

Unfortunately this view is not so clear to his supporters as this letter in The Listener shows:

As someone show has stamped her feet in the cold while attending cake stalls to promote New Zealand First, I certainly wouldn’t turn down a $25,000 donation from Sir robert Jones, although I might spit in his eye for his pre-1987 crash advice to invest in stocks becasue you could collect dividens “like mowing your lawn with less trouble”.

It is particularly curious to find the party under financial investigation because when it comes to donations it has always been the last, loneliest and ugliest as far as the big spenders are concerned, maybe because they knew they wouldn’t get any reciprocal co-operation.

That’s what Peters would have you believe but there is a growing body of evidence to the contrary.

Wherever whatever money went it no doubt was used to enable survival, either the party’s or Winston Peters’, since he has been the linchpin.

If that’s the case why weren’t the donations declared?

If the current bully-boy exercise has any benefit, it might be in more atttention to NZ First polices. the media have been so intent on Winston-baiting that they have mostly ignored them.

So there you have it in black and white. It’s the media’s fault, Winston’s lilly white.  

If ever there were grounds for requiring people to pass a comprehension test before voting they are in the blind loyalty expressed in this letter because all Peters needs are 5% of voters to share the views of The Listener’s correspondent. Then he and his party will be back in parliament and possibly back in government.


Too many trusts to trust

August 24, 2008

This morning’s Herald  raises more questions over Winston Peters’ legal bills because New Zealand First papers have exposed another trust.

The documents firstly confirm the existence of the Winston Peters Fighting Fund Trust.

This was established in February 1993 specifically to pay legal costs associated with Peters’ legal battles – such as the high-profile defamation action taken against him by businessman Selwyn Cushing.

This trust, of which Peters is listed in the documents as one of three trustees, is separate to the secretive Spencer Trust, which Peters has said he had no knowledge of.

Minutes from a September 1993 meeting of the fighting fund trust confirm an “account for payment” for $4500 to Henry, money that former trustee Suzanne Edmonds says was owed for legal ser-vices carried out on behalf of Peters.

At the next monthly meeting of the trust, the issue of the payment to Henry comes up again and it is agreed arrangements will be made by the trust to pay Henry within the following fortnight.

Henry did not respond to Herald on Sunday questions regarding the $4500 “account for payment”, but did tell the privileges committee last week that since 1991 he had not issued Peters with an invoice for legal work.

Edmonds, however, said under the strict practices of the trust, payments were not made unless an invoice had been submitted.

If a payment of $4500 was to have been made to Henry there would have been an invoice from Henry, or at the very least from his instructing solicitor, for that amount, she said.

“…that trust was run very well and we certainly paid on our invoice [basis]. That is the manner in which we ran the trust.”

Edmonds also claimed other payments were made by the trust to Henry through his instructing solicitor.

… Edmonds, who is no longer with NZ First, said she did not wish to disclose the reasons why she parted company with the party.

However, she hoped all matters relating to party donations were “investigated properly so the truth comes out”.

Anyone interested in New Zealand’s reputation for its lack of corruption will share her hopes and until the truth comes out we’re left with too many trusts and too little about which we can trust Peters and the unusual workings of his party.


Glenn giving evidence

August 21, 2008

Owen Glenn has provided written evidence  about his donations to New Zealand First (or was it Winston Peters, or his lawyer?) for the Serious Fraud Office and the privileges committee.

In his statement, Mr Glenn appeared to confirm that his donation to Mr Peters was to “assist with his legal expenses” – a critical issue, in light of an e-mail that surfaced recently in which he appeared to believe it was a donation to the NZ First Party. Such a donation was never declared to electoral authorities by NZ First.

Mr Peters and his lawyer, Brian Henry, say the Glenn donation was paid directly into Mr Henry’s fees account to cover Mr Henry’s fees in the NZ First Tauranga electoral petition.

If he appears, Opposition MPs are also likely to grill Mr Glenn over who put him in touch with Mr Henry, after Mr Henry refused to name the middleman, citing client confidentiality.

This is beginning to resemble the plot of a soap opera, but that shouldn’t divert us from the importance of the issues. It’s not just about Peters and his party. It’s also about our reputation for open democracy and the lack of hidden influences and corruption which ironically are the things on which Peters has built his career.


Dodgy practice behind circumlocution

August 21, 2008

The Southland Times  might have its tongue in its cheek but it makes some very good points:

The length and breadth of the country, lawyers must be explaining to their stony clients why they don’t have the same relationship Winston Peters has with his “blood brother” Brian Henry, QC, writes The Southland Time in an editorial.

 Your lawyer does work for you — valuable, detailed, normally expensive work — and then casts around for donors to recompense him for it. Should it happen that he finds none, or not enough, then it’s his loss and he regards his time as donated.

In either case, no bill is presented to his client, so it’s not his debt.

Outstanding. Mateship at its finest. And it works particularly well when there isn’t any impertinent suggestion of the public having any legitimate interest in this.

Mr Peters’ relationship with Mr Henry was presented to Parliament’s privileges committee as one that removes the NZ First leader from expectations of accountability.

He has been hauled before it to answer allegations that he broke the rules that require MPs to disclose debts and gifts. The explanation goes that he didn’t ask about, wasn’t told about, and therefore could hardly expected to know about, let alone declare, the likes of the $100,000 that expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn seems to think he donated to NZ First.

And if Mr Glenn is confused on that point, well then whomsoever’s problem that is, it shouldn’t be Mr Peters. Apparently.

Even if it transpires he’s off the hook legally, Mr Peters is unlikely to be able to keep enjoying this state of blissful ignorance — a political nirvana if ever there was.

Behind the circumlocution, New Zealanders will have little difficulty recognising a dodgy practice.

At very least, this matey relationship inappropriately removed Mr Peters from a loop that, for accountability’s sake, he should have been in.

Mr Peters’ defence is akin to a child insisting he hadn’t heard what his parents said, but only because he’d stuck his fingers in his ears and gone “la-la-la-la-la!” to avoid hearing it.

He didn’t know anything about any donations? Okay, but he surely knew about there being some sort of system in place to explain the fact that he never had a bill.

Not even Mr Peters’ fiercest foes would deny his intelligence.

And you don’t need much of that to know that when you’re engaged in serious legal action, serious bills are mounting up somewhere. If these aren’t coming anywhere near you, then a degree of curiosity about what happens to them is not just appropriate, it’s politically necessary.

 

For his part, Mr Henry has clearly long been determined that Mr Peters’ foes, who are legion, are not going to squash him for want of a legal defence. Not only has Mr Peters not received any bill for work done by Mr Henry since 1991, but the lawyer stumped up himself for the $40,000 costs ordered against Mr Peters by the court in the failed Tauranga election petition.

 

 Peters now says he’s in the clear  because he paid the money back. I’d want to see the paper trail before I’d accept that and even it if does prove he’s right there are a lot more questions yet to be answered.


Owen Glenn will be called for evidence

August 19, 2008

MPs want to call Owen Glenn to give evidence to the privileges committee.

But:

Committee chairman Simon Power would make no further comment last night. He could not say whether the committee had the power to compel Mr Glenn to give evidence, if he chose not to appear.

And John Armstrong isn’t confident that Peters will be censured.

If you were a betting person, you would have to put the odds on Winston Peters escaping censure by Parliament’s privileges committee after watching last night’s hearing.

Put that down to the unorthodox relationship between Peters and his lawyer Brian Henry. Much depends on what Owen Glenn says if he accepts the committee’s invitation to give evidence. But with his testimony – given by video-link – Henry knocked the stuffing out of the charge Peters had failed to declare a $100,000 donation from the wealthy expatriate in the register of MPs’ pecuniary interests.

Boiled down, it ran like this. Henry rang Glenn and asked for the donation to meet the costs of Peters’ legal bid to overturn the result in Tauranga in the 2005 election. Peters was not told. It was Henry’s practice not to bill Peters for his work. In fact, since becoming Peters’ lawyer in 1991, Henry had never billed Peters for his work. Because he did not bill Peters, there was no debt that Peters ought to have declared.

Perhaps you have to be a lawyer to understand this especially when:

The committee heard from Peters that he had reimbursed Henry to the tune of hundreds and thousands of dollars over that period, but without knowing how much he owed. So it seems Henry did not charge Peters – but he still got paid.

Does that make sense? There was no bill and so no debt but Peters and other people paid Henry anyway.

In forthrightly arguing his case, Henry nearly managed to upstage his client – something rarely done. When Henry refused on the grounds of legal privilege to name the person who had suggested he ring Glenn for a donation, he got into a lengthy argument with National’s Gerry Brownlee, who accused him of being obstructive.

There had been doubts beforehand about how tough National’s questioning would be, given the party might have to negotiate with Peters after the coming election. But Brownlee and his colleague Wayne Mapp did not hold back. Sparks also flew during their exchanges with Peters.

I am relieved to learn this. If the MPs had trod gently it would have been a travesty.

Regardless of the fear they may be forced into coalition with New Zealand First after the election, those on the committee have to ask the tough questions and do everything in their power to not only get answers but also get the truth.


No bill = no debt? No

August 19, 2008

Dear Winston,

A man of your legal experience ought to know that your excuse/explanation won’t wash:

Winston Peters told Parliament’s privileges committee last night he could not be in breach of the laws around disclosure of debts owed by MPs, or their payment, because his lawyer never sent him any bills.

Mr Peters and his lawyer, Brian Henry, argued that without bills being rendered for legal work, no debts existed and therefore could not be declared.

The money doesn’t literally have to change hands to be a donation.

If someone does some work for you and doesn’t send a bill costs are still incurred and whether or not a bill is sent, you are in debt to the provider of the services. If someone else then pays said provider s/he is in fact donating to you.

If you don’t understand this, may I suggest you have a look at the Electoral Finance Act where the value of goods and services provided must be accounted for even if they are donated and whether or not a bill is sent.

Yours in the spirit of helpfulness

Homepaddock


Privileges Cttee makes little progress

August 18, 2008

Ignorance of the law is not accepted as a defence but Winston Peters is trying the “I know nothing” approach with the privileges committee.

 He and his lawyer Brian Henry say Peters hasn’t broken the law about declaring donations because no bills were sent.

The pair appeared before Parliament’s privileges committee over allegations Mr Peters broke Parliament’s rules by failing to declare a $100,000 donation from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn which was used towards Mr Peters’ legal fees.

He repeatedly denied reports NZ First received a donation from Mr Glenn, who had been lobbying to be made an honorary consul in Monaco…

Mr Henry said Mr Glenn may have “aligned the fact he was paying for the Tauranga electoral petition with the political party whose leader ran it”.

Costs of $40,000 awarded to Mr Clarkson were paid out of Mr Henry’s pocket – something the lawyer said Mr Peters would not have known until this evening.

Mr Henry, who said a description of his relationship with Mr Peters of being blood brothers was apt, never sent bills via a solicitor for legal work for Mr Peters. That meant there was no debt.

“The position is I have not rendered a fee note to the solicitor for the work done and that solicitor has not rendered a bill to Winston. Until my instructing solicitor renders a bill to Winston, there is no debt owed by Winston.”

Parliament’s rules state that MPs must disclose any gift or payment of their debts, with a value of over $500, by another person.

Mr Henry told MPs he had long employed the practice of fund-raising to pay Mr Peters’ debt and not tell him about doing this in order to protect him.

Mr Peters read a letter he wrote to Speaker Margaret Wilson outlining his arguments that there was no debt or gift to declare.

“We have always operated under an agreed system of Mr Henry not disclosing the source of fund-raising and myself not asking. . . there is no debt to be paid or discharged.”

National’s Gerry Brownlee asked Mr Peters about a comment Mr Peters made, saying Mr Glenn had helped pay his bill.

“When you were saying this is a donation to you, you were accepting that there was a donation to you personally?”

“No it was a donation to the legal cost of a petition.”

The hearing is continuing.

Strange how a supposedly intelligent man can’t understand what is so clear to the rest of us: whether or not you see or know about the money, if it’s used to pay your debts it’s a donation to you.


Will Peters be held to account?

August 18, 2008

A Fairfax Media Neilson poll shows that the public is already holding Winston Peters to account.

The poll findings come as Mr Peters and his lawyer Brian Henry prepare to front up to a privileges hearing tonight into allegations surrounding a $100,000 donation from billionaire Owen Glenn to Mr Peters’ legal fund.

Mr Peters also faces questions over the secretive Spencer Trust, the existence of which only came to light after The Dominion Post revealed a $25,000 cheque from millionaire Sir Robert Jones was deposited in the trust and never declared.

Today’s poll for The Dominion Post suggests that the affair has dented Mr Peters’ credibility, with 48 per cent of voters believing Prime Minister Helen Clark should stand him down from his ministerial positions over questions surrounding donations to NZ First.

Thirty-seven per cent of voters disagreed, and 15 per cent had no opinion. The findings are more damning when it comes to voters’ views on whether NZ First should be involved in discussions after the election about the formation of the next government – just 39 per cent of voters think Labour should do another deal with NZ First, compared with 52 per cent who say no. The result was similar when it came to NZ First doing a deal with National – just 36 per cent said yes, and 54 per cent said no.

The polls leave no doubt about what people think but as the Herald editorial  points out he doesn’t need a lot of support.

Ultimately, of course, Mr Peters’ fate rests on the court of public opinion. But MMP allows him to be acquitted on the verdict of a tiny minority, one voter in 20 to be precise. He can survive with the support of just 5 per cent of voters nationwide. And even that pitiful support could enable him to decide which of the two main parties forms the next government. Hence, neither of them has tried to question his financial arrangements too closely.

Labour and National members dominate the privileges committee and there, too, they might not press him for answers. It is a worry that the committee has not bothered to contact Mr Glenn, who thought his donation went to NZ First. Like the Prime Minister, it might prefer to accept Mr Peters’ assurances that nothing untoward has been done.

We would all like to accept those assurances, if only to cease handing Mr Peters more attention, but somebody has to hold him to account, as he likes to hold others. If his peers cannot do it, who will?

It’s up to the voters. If NZ First passes the 5% threshold and holds the balance of power both Labour and National may be forced to seek their support.

Keeping Stock wants John Key to make it clear Peters won’t be welcome in a National-led government. But neither Key nor Clark can afford to write him off, just in case the voters deliver a result which forces them to negotiate with him.

The only way to ensure Peters isn’t in government (or a Minister outside cabinet or whatever other all care-no responsiblity role he’s able to negotiate) is to ensure NZ First doesn’t pass the 5% threshold and none of its MPs win a seat.


Stop digging start apologising.

July 21, 2008

The Herald uses its editorial to tell Winston Peters to stop digging. He should also start apologising.

It was one thing to make a denial without checking all possible sources of his financial support, and flourish a silly sign to news cameras, but Mr Peters did not hear alarm bells even when the Herald discovered an email in which Mr Glenn asked a public relations adviser, “You are saying I should deny giving a donation to NZ First? When I did?”

A wiser man would have run a quick check on all sources of funds related to his personal political activities and his party. Instead our Foreign Minister descended to baseless and disgraceful allegations of his own – against the integrity of this newspaper, its editor, and our fair-minded political editor, Audrey Young.

Definitely not the actions of a wise man.

We were not particularly surprised by that response. Mr Peters has made a career of bluff and bluster and convincing enough poor voters that the media is the enemy. But we have been surprised at his behaviour since he was forced on Friday to concede Audrey Young’s disclosures are true.

At least, that is what he should have conceded. An honourable and decent public figure would acknowledged his error and apologised to her in the course of explaining himself. Mr Peters did neither. After his lawyer, Brian Henry, told him Mr Glenn had in fact contributed $100,000 to his legal costs in 2006, Mr Peters put out a statement that was not only devoid of apology or regret but attempted to give himself some wriggle room in semantics.

This was not an honorable or decent statement.

He did not make a donation to the NZ First Party,” he said of Mr Glenn, “he made a donation to a legal action he thought justified”. Later, at his party’s 15th anniversary conference, Mr Peters maintained this desperate distinction. “Not one cent went to NZ First and not one cent went to me,” he insisted. “A donation was made to a legal case which is a massive difference … “

No, it is not. He brought a case against the election spending of the MP who captured his Tauranga seat. The law hears those actions in the name of individuals, not parties. Had the petition succeeded, the beneficiaries would have been Mr Peters, if the seat had been restored to him, and his party, since an electorate gives a party more secure representation in Parliament. Mr Glenn obviously believed he was contributing to NZ First and to all intents and purposes, he was.

Indeed, it might disturb Mr Glenn to hear that the donation was technically not for a party’s legal action but for an individual MP’s, because that MP is the country’s Foreign Minister and the Monaco-based billionaire would like to be appointed our honorary consul there. It is a humble enough request from an expatriate who leads a multi-national logistics enterprise and has given millions to his country of birth, most recently to endow the new Auckland University business school that carries his name.

Except that buying honary appointments isn’t supposed to happen in an open democracy.

He was also the Labour Party’s largest donor at the last election, a connection noted when he was named in the New Year Honours. Labour weathered that news easily enough and NZ First could have done likewise, had Mr Peters not foolishly denied it. He has put himself in this hole and he would be smarter to stop digging.

And start apologising. Sorry really isn’t that hard to say if you understand what you’ve done is wrong; refusing to say it suggests he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.


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