Fran O'Sullivan: Meurant allegations require scrutiny

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If New Zealand had an independent Corruption Commission, it would by now be probing allegations that a former MP turned political adviser had tried to "sell policies for cash" and various political parties had been targeted.

At issue is whether the parties named in the Dominion-Post's news stories this week - Winston Peters' New Zealand First and Peter Dunne's United Future - did in fact cross the line when former National MP Ross Meurant tried to orchestrate favours for commercial interests such as the Vela family, from whom he later sought a "top-up" while he was a taxpayer-funded adviser to NZ First.

Both Peters and Dunne say neither they nor their parties made policy decisions on the basis of the political donations that Meurant orchestrated.

Meurant is not speaking publicly.

But journalist Phil Kitchin says the documents on which he based his stories included reports and notes from meetings that appear to have been prepared largely by Meurant himself.

"They provide an insider's view into dealings within NZ First - including criticism of some party members and its MPs - and Meurant's description of the work he did for Peters," Kitchin wrote.

There is clearly enough worrying murk in the public domain to warrant a full-scale inquiry into exactly what happened during the fag-end of the 1990s through to 2003 when Meurant disappeared off the local political scene.

The disclosures are not a good look. Particularly as they come on top of the earlier revelations that Peters strenuously promoted billionaire Owen Glenn for the job of consul to Monaco following a time when we now know the expat had doled out $100,000 donation to the MP's legal cause and a similar sized loan to help Labour fund-raise after the 2005 election.

The allegations are a major turnaround from the 2005 election where Peters - and some Labour figures - were claiming that National was in the grip of "hollow men" style offshore bagmen who had lined the party's coffers with tagged donations.

In fact, Nicky Hager's subsequent book contained little to back up his assertions that particular business people had been then-leader Don Brash's prime backers. Or proof that Brash has promised policies in return for cash. Just innuendo.

It's hardly surprising the business sector has had a gutsful.

Nearly 20 per cent of CEOs responding to the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey believed Peters' antics this year have brought New Zealand's reputation as a corruption-free country into question.

It is the lack of transparency, coupled with the allegations he has slung against political opponents, that anger them.

All the chief executives I subsequently canvassed in a mini-survey last week told me they didn't want either Clark or Key to have Peters in their governments.

Irrespective of whether Peters and NZ First are returned to Parliament this Saturday (frankly I think NZ First is toast), or, whether it is Helen Clark or John Key who is prime minister after the post-election talks, a full commission probe should take place.

Key has already said he takes Dunne at his word saying the Meurant revelations have no effect on his plans to offer the United Future leader a Cabinet post. He has ruled Peters out of contention. Clark has not.

But it would be quite unfair to simply focus on NZ First's alleged behaviour. The Australian newspaper has reported NZ Revenue Minister Dunne is at the centre of a claim his party was offered money from a wealthy businessman after agreeing to oppose fishing restrictions.

The report quotes Meurant as saying: "I think Dunne is worth it. He will be a key actor in the finance select committee - and I believe the donation will have the effect of moderating opposition he [Dunne] may have previously displayed toward IRD-related [tax] issues involving Vela Group ... " This is not a good look.

The material, in the public domain, clearly raises big questions over Meurant and his commercial backers.

The former MP resigned from his parliamentary job when it was revealed he was in a business relationship with Simunovich Fisheries while advising Peters for the 2003 parliamentary select committee inquiry into scampi quota allocations.

It now appears this is not the only time Meurant was double-dipping.

This is particularly disquieting as Meurant is also a former inspector-in-charge of Auckland police criminal intelligence - whose website boasts a coat of arms with the motto "virtue et fortuna" (by virtue and fortune).

The allegations also need to be probed for reasons of fairness.

Consider this: the Prime Minister sanctioned an inquiry into the assistance former Labour Cabinet minister Taito Phillip Field proffered on immigration issues to Thai nationals who went on to work on his properties for little pay.

Field is now facing bribery and corruption charges and is standing on Saturday under the Pacific Party's banner.

Key and Act leader Rodney Hide have benefited politically from the long campaign to unmask Peters' secret donations from big business. Clark did nothing so as to keep her Government intact.

There is enough on the table to justify all three leaders calling for a proper inquiry. The cards should then lie where they fall.

- NZ Herald

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