Field: Charges won't affect plans for new party

Former Labour MP Taito Phillip Field says bribery charges he faces will not change his plans to form a new political party.

Mr Field resigned from Labour this year when the party moved to expel him after he indicated he would stand against it at the next election.

Suggestions surfaced soon after he would form a new party called the Pacific Party and focus on the large Pacific Islands support he had in his seat in Mangere, south Auckland.

At a media conference in his lawyers' chambers in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby he said the process of setting up the new political party would not stop.

"We will continue with those plans."

He said some of the blame for the decision to lay charges should rest with Mr Ingram who failed to investigate some matters.

He said the time it had taken for the Ingram report and the police investigation was "grossly unfair" and had placed enormous stress on him and his family.

Mr Field said it was "business as usual" after the police announcement.

Too slow

Prime Minister Helen Clark is fighting back at claims the Labour Party was too slow dealing with Philip Field.

Police have announced they want to bring 14 charges against the embattled Mangere MP over allegations he offered immigration help in return for free labour.

National's Lockwood Smith believes Helen Clark made a huge error of judgement when she initially defended Mr Field, saying he was guilty of no more than trying to be helpful.

He says she rubbished whistle-blower Keith Williams and what he had to say when it now seems quite clear he was telling the truth.

The Prime Minister would not comment on Mr Field remaining in Parliament in the meantime.

Miss Clark says the Noel Ingram Report looked into the allegations as quickly as was prudent, and the results were clearly damning. She says the remaining issue was whether Mr Field's behaviour was unethical or illegal.

National's deputy leader, Bill English, reminded Parliament that Miss Clark had once defended her former MP by saying "I think the only thing he is probably guilty of is trying to be helpful to someone".

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen answering on Miss Clark's behalf said in light of the police announcement, it would be unwise for any politician to pre-judge the case.

Undeterred, Mr English asked why Labour could not tell the difference between trying to be helpful to someone, and actions that warranted police investigation.

He also claimed that the Ingram inquiry had been restricted by Miss Clark because she did not want him to get to the bottom of the issue.

Dr Cullen said Miss Clark had told people with complaints to go to the police and outside Parliament Miss Clark defended her actions.

Mr English said in Parliament, Miss Clark had undertaken "highly questionable actions" to protect Mr Field, a suggestion that was rejected by Dr Cullen.

'Innocent until proven guilty'

Miss Clark has insisted the justice system must run its course now.

She said she has no influence over the speed of the process.

Miss Clark said: "I think it is important that we uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

"Clearly these are very serious charges. He has indicated that he will defence them as is of course his right.

"Whether he decides to defend them as a Member of Parliament is up to him."

Mr Field, who is now an independent having been thrown out by Labour last year, declared today that he had never broken the law in his 14 years as an MP.

Looking calm and composed at a press conference in Auckland, he said he would fight any charges brought against him and had confidence in the court system to clear him of any allegations.

Mr Field said: "I have never taken a bribe, I have never taken any money, I have never asked, requested or suggested to anybody in any way that they do anything for me in return for my help, any help, or work as a Member of Parliament in the 14 years that I have been in Parliament.

"That simple truth in fact is what gives me the confidence that I haven't done anything wrong, that I am innocent of what has been alleged and also that I have not broken the law in this regard."

He said that he had never taken any bribes or asked for any money to do his work in Parliament.

Mr Field said he welcomed the fact that he would now face a judicial process rather than "trial by media".

Police announced this morning that they want to charge Mr Field with bribery.

Police had asked the Auckland Crown Solicitor to begin that process.

Approval to lay the charges under Section 103 of the Crimes Act must come from a Judge of the High Court.

National Party leader John Key said the police decision vindicated the Opposition's call for further inquiries into Mr Field's dealings following the release of Dr Ingram's report in July last year.

"National has always maintained that the terms of reference set by Helen Clark into the Field saga were too narrow and as a result the inquiry was unable to fully explore all the allegations."

Mr Field's lawyer Satiu Simativa Perese today said Mr Field would fight the police application.

"He has maintained his innocence from day one and he is hardly likely to capitulate now. He has not had the opportunity to put his side of the story," Mr Perese said.

Mr Burgess said that he expected the formal application to be filed in the High Court in mid to late June.

He said that it was likely to take until then for all of the relevant material to be assembled in support of the application.

The police decision comes after almost 18 months of investigations into the MP's conduct, starting with Noel Ingram QC who was appointed by Prime Minister Helen Clark in September 2005 to look into whether Mr Field had a conflict of interest when helping a Thai overstayer get a work permit. The tiler had worked on Mr Field's house in Samoa.

Mr Field has maintained throughout the police and Ingram inquiries that he has not broken any laws.

Despite being cleared of a conflict of interest after a nine-month inquiry, several questions raised by Dr Ingram continued to fester with fresh allegations against Mr Field arising in the media.

The police investigation into Mr Field included a three-pronged raid on his parliamentary and electorate offices as well as his Mangere home in October.

Mr Field then split from the Labour Party, resigning in February to sidestep a potentially long expulsion process that was triggered by statements he made about the possibility of standing against Labour in the next election.

Mr Field has been discussing the possibility of launching a Pacific political party, based on religious values.

The Mangere MP can remain in Parliament while facing charges but he will have to vacate his seat if he is found guilty of bribery and corruption offences, which carry a prison sentence of up to seven years.

- NZHERALD STAFF, NZPA, NEWSTALK ZB

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