Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Gift status of ex-Minister's phone disputed

Maurice Williamson says the phone he received was offered as an extended trial. Photo / Doug Sherring
Maurice Williamson says the phone he received was offered as an extended trial. Photo / Doug Sherring

Embattled MP Maurice Williamson is facing fresh trouble after it emerged he failed to declare a top-of-the-range $899 smartphone.

The Pakuranga MP claims he did not have to disclose the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone in a register of pecuniary interests, released this week, because it was a long-term loan and not a gift.

Prime Minister John Key and Communications and Technology Minister Amy Adams were also given phones — Key got three — but both declared them on the gifts register.

Williamson told the Herald on Sunday Samsung contacted him through a public relations firm to offer him an "extended trial".

Williamson said he was known as a fan of technology and companies often wanted to show him their latest products. "It will go back to Samsung and hence, no gift occurred."

An internal Samsung email obtained by the Herald on Sunday shows Williamson inquired about the company's programme of "gifting" products to politicians.

The email shows Williamson wanted the phone "urgently" ahead of an overseas trip in May last year. "He is travelling on Sat, and wants his phone in a hurry," it said.

The Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests, Sir Maarten Wevers, said it should be on the register if Williamson had more than $500 worth of benefit from the phone over a 12-month period.

"If you were lending someone a house for a year or a car for a year and it has a value of more than $500, I would expect that to be included in your return," he said. "If you're in doubt you should declare. That's the rule of thumb."

Sir Maarten said he would check with the Office of the Clerk on Monday to see whether there were for any precedents for this sort of thing

Constitutional law expert Andrew Geddis said Williamson was wrong to say it was not a gift. "There's still a gift involved in that he's gaining free the use of this device for the period in which it is in his possession," the Otago University professor said.

Williamson resigned his ministerial portfolios last week after being accused of interfering in a police prosecution against National Party donor Donghua Liu.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe last night said guidelines around declaration of gifts by ministers were to ensure public confidence in the system.

Adams said the phone she received was a gift and she did not plan to return it.

The Prime Minister and Samsung declined to comment.

- Herald on Sunday

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