NZ First faces three inquiries into donations

By Peter Wilson, Ian Llewellyn

New Zealand First is now facing three separate inquiries into donations it received since 2005 and the Electoral Commission has given it until the end of the month to file accurate returns for the last three years.

The police confirmed today there would be an inquiry into a complaint laid by ACT leader Rodney Hide about the party's failure to declare a donation of $80,000 last year.

The Serious Fraud Office is investigating donations by Sir Robert Jones and the Vela family to find out whether the money was used for the purposes the donors intended.

And Parliament's privileges committee is deciding whether a $100,000 donation from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn, which was used to pay fees charged by a lawyer working for NZ First leader Winston Peters, should have been declared as a gift.

Mr Glenn has said Mr Peters personally solicited the donation and thanked him for it.

Mr Peters says he never asked for money and knew nothing about the donation, made in December 2005, until July 18 this year when his lawyer, Brian Henry, told him about it.

Mr Glenn is due to appear before the privileges committee tomorrow, when he will be asked for evidence that Mr Peters asked for the money and what he thought it was going to be used for.

Mr Peters is due to appear on Wednesday to give his version of what happened.

One way or another all the donations, which total about $150,000, are now under investigation.

The donations went into the Spencer Trust and were channelled to NZ First by the trust.

Under electoral law, all donations of more than $10,000, or multiple cheques from the same sources that amount to more than $10,000, have to be declared to the Electoral Commission.

NZ First filed nil returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The Spencer Trust also directly paid the party's bills, and that should have been declared as well.

The party president during those years, MP Dail Jones, wrote to the Electoral Commission explaining what he called "an administrative error" which caused nil returns to be filed.

The commission today said it wanted by September 30 amended party donation returns for the three years, as well as "a detailed explanation of the circumstances leading to the need to file amended returns".

When it has finished investigating the returns, the commission could decide to hand the file over to the police.

After the police confirmed they would investigate Mr Hide's complaint, the MP said he thought New Zealanders wanted to see an end to the saga.

"I think it's time for Winston Peters, his MPs and party officials to front up and tell the truth," he said.

Prime Minister Helen Clark would not comment on the developments when she held her post-cabinet press conference today.

"It's quite clear there have been problems with their reporting as required under the Act," she said.

"That's something other authorities will be dealing with...I think we will just let these processes run."

One of the most curious aspects of the donations situation is that Mr Jones has said neither he nor NZ First's board knew anything about the Spencer Trust during the years that are being investigated.

Mr Jones has said he did not know where the money was coming from and in one instance, when the $80,000 arrived in NZ First's bank account, he could not discover its source.

He also did not know anything about the bills that were paid by the Spencer Trust, and it has not been explained who passed the bills to the trust.


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