Peters attacks critics, sidesteps donation issues

By Edward Gay with NZPA

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has angrily denied any wrongdoing in regards to the funding of his party.

At a press conference in Auckland, he has told media that the stories published this week about undeclared donations are "unsubstantiated rubbish" and his party has acted legally at all times.

Mr Peters says no donations were kept by party members and donations did not influence his party's policies.

Mr Peters said he has no involvement with the Spencer Trust, into which Sir Robert Jones paid $25,000 when he believed he was giving a donation to Mr Peters.

Mr Peters also said Sir Robert was wrong when he claimed Mr Peters had asked him for the donation.

Mr Peters told journalists they should ask the Spencer Trust what they did with the money.

"I have been advised by party officials at the time that there is nothing NZ First is required to disclose arising from the Spencer Trust," Mr Peters said.

Mr Peters was asked to clear the matter up and reveal what the money had been spent on.

He told the media to base their "questions on the law and the facts but you are not going to get away, where this party is concerned, with a wild fishing expedition that goes way beyond the entitlement of New Zealanders if that is their wish and anonymously, if that is their wish," Mr Peters said.

Mr Peters said he never asked Sir Bob for money. He was continually questioned on what the money donated to the Spencer Trust was used for.

"If you want to know the facts ask the right people," he said.

Sir Robert said yesterday the $25,000 was paid to a trust managed by Mr Peters' brother Wayne, a Whangarei lawyer, at NZ First's request.

Herald political editor Audrey Young told Mr Peters that his brother would not answer questions.

"How can I answer them if I am not in charge of that trust," Mr Peters said.

He told the media that he was not aware of what the money donated to the trust was used for.

Mr Peters said he would meet the Prime Minister next week to talk about the media reports.

Mr Peters is under pressure about funding issues and at the press conference he accused journalists of unprofessionalism and being part of a campaign of innuendo promoted by interest groups for their own gain.

One issue is the $100,000 from expatriate philanthropist Owen Glenn, which was used to help pay Mr Peters' legal bill when he tried to overturn the 2005 Tauranga election result.

Mr Peters denied for months receiving money from Mr Glenn, but recently had to concede the money had gone to his lawyer without his knowledge.

Another is the $25,000 donation from Sir Robert.

Now Sir Robert wants to find out what happened to it, and has written to former NZ First president Dail Jones.

He is also asking questions about $150,000 he donated to the party around the time it was formed in 1993.

The third issue is a series of cheques that The Dominion Post has reported were paid to the party by members of the wealthy Vela family.

Meanwhile, ACT leader Rodney Hide is asking the Cabinet Office to explain how it handled Mr Peters receiving $100,000 from Glenn to help pay his legal fees.

It was not declared in the MPs' Register of Pecuniary Interests, although the rules appear to make it clear it should have been.

Mr Hide also questions whether Mr Peters has breached Cabinet office guidelines.

The letter to the Cabinet Secretary Diane Morcom asks 21 detailed questions about how officials briefed Mr Peters on the need to declare potential conflicts of interest.

It also asks about Mr Peters' disclosures and whether officials are happy with them, as well as for all documentation relating to the issues raised.

Mr Peters, who previously denied receiving any donations from Mr Glenn, says he only found out about it last Friday.

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