Vela cash goes to Labour, NZ First

By Claire Trevett

Labour and New Zealand First got $100,000 donations from fishing and racing industry heavyweights the Vela brothers in the 10 days before the election.

Both parties yesterday disclosed donations of $100,000 from Resource Finance, a company set up by brothers Peter and Philip Vela in 1999 and registered to the Velas' business address in Hamilton.

It follows controversy over donations from Vela companies to NZ First dating back to 1999 that the party did not disclose.

NZ First was cleared of wrongdoing by police, the Electoral Commission and the Serious Fraud Office but was told to update its returns.

Under new Electoral Finance Act rules, donations worth more than $20,000 have to be disclosed within two weeks.

Labour president Mike Williams said Peter Vela contacted him to offer the money. Mr Williams had not known about the donation to New Zealand First.

"He was very definite about wanting to make a contribution, and I accepted."

Mr Williams said there were no conditions to the donation, and he had explained to Mr Vela that his name would become public.

Labour got the money from Resource Finance on October 31, the same day it also received $60,000 from the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

Labour told the Electoral Commission of the EPMU donation on November 5, but did not tell it about the Vela donation until yesterday, two days after the election but still within the disclosure deadline.

Mr Williams said this was not an attempt to keep a potentially controversial donation out of the public eye until after the election.

He said he had not known about the EPMU donation, which would have gone directly to Labour's head office rather than to him.

Yesterday, Peter Vela refused to say what prompted the donation to Labour.

"You've got to be entitled to donate to who you wish, don't you?" he said.

Asked if he had supported Labour before, he said, "Yes, of course."

"We are still a democracy and people still do have the basic democratic right to give how much they like, when they like and how they like to whom they like."

NZ First's updated return for 2007 included an $80,000 donation from the Spencer Trust, which is believed to be cash from the Velas.

Peter and Philip Vela were directors of Resource Finance until 2002, when Vela spokesman Geoffrey Burgess and another Vela associate, Hamish McIlraith, took over.

Both are also the directors of Vela Holdings.

NZ First received its donation from the company on October 28, and Labour received its three days later on October 31.

Labour and NZ First were the only parties to vote against Parliament's motion to censure Winston Peters after the privileges committee finding against him over donations.

The money from the Vela brothers did not play a part in the censure, which was for his failure to disclose a separate donation from Monaco-based expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn.

- NZ Herald

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