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.

Who’s right?

October 25, 2008

I had just finished reading a Kiwiblog post on the story behind the trust which received $78,000 from New Zealand First when TV One’s news came on.

Kiwiblog says the trust was set up a couple of months after Winston Peters announced his party had donated to charities the $158,000 they owed the tax payer; that two of Peters’ lawyers are trustees and:

There is no reference to Susan Couch in the trust deed, except being the name of the trust. Couch is not listed as the Patron, and the three Trustees have total power over the Trust.  She is not listed specifically as a beneficiary either. Again the Trustees have total discretion over who the money goes to (so long as within the objects), and Couch has no rights or say at all. So the Herald is wrong when they say it is “A trust for Susan Couch”.

That doesn’t mean the trust can’t give her money, but there’s a difference in a trust for someone and a trust from which someone may benefit.

However,  TV 1 says:

A trust for Susan Couch received money that was supposed to be paid back to parliamentary services for New Zealand First’s overspending in the 2005 election campaign, but was instead given to charity.

“I’m not sure what the exact figure is, but obviously I’m not going to say no and this money benefits,” Couch says.

“It’s a victim of crime fund, so it will benefit many people,”

That’s a little vague – does it mean she’s actually got some money, or just that she knows the trust has money it could give her?

I’m not doubting her need. She was the victim of an horrific crime and is unable to work because of the injuries she received. But Peters has used her for political ends and chose to donate money to a trust rather than repay the debt he owes the public.

That makes it a story of public interest and the TV news version appears to be at odds with the information on Kiwiblog.

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.

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