Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

IPCA considers complaints over Banks prosecution

Act MP John Banks at the Auckland High Court. Photo / Dean Purcell
Act MP John Banks at the Auckland High Court. Photo / Dean Purcell

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has confirmed it is evaluating complaints about the police decision not to pursue electoral fraud charges against Act MP John Banks, and may launch a formal investigation.

That confirmation has come as Labour calls for a high level independent inquiry into recent police investigations into recent politically charged cases, including that against Mr Banks.

Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) spokesman Warren Young this afternoon confirmed the authority received complaints earlier this year about the police decision not pursue charges against Banks. Police said they found insufficient evidence that Banks knowingly submitted a false electoral return during his 2010 Auckland mayoralty bid.

They found evidence to support a lesser charge of filing a false return but the window of opportunity to pursue that charge had already expired.

Mr Young said the authority had decided to "keep a watching brief" on the John Banks case, and "reconsider the matter after the verdict".

Mr Banks was found guilty in the High Court at Auckland last week of knowingly submitting a false return after Crown Law took over a private prosecution by retired Wellington accountant Graham McCready.

"We will now set about reconsidering what action if any we should take, but it's far too early to indicate what we what might determine in that regard so we've really got no further comment at this stage", Mr Young told the Herald.

He indicated the IPCA would focus on the John Banks case rather than taking a look at wider issues around police decisions about electoral and politically charged investigations.

Labour's justice spokesman Andrew Little said the Banks case raised wider questions about police decisions on politically charged cases.

"During the procedural wrangling after the private prosecution (against Banks) was launched, every other judge that looked at the initial information found there was a case to answer, but the police and their Crown Law advisers didn't."

But a spokeswoman for Crown Law said Crown Law was never consulted by police on the decision not to prosecute. "Neither Crown Law nor the Solicitor-General were asked for advice by the Police in relation to this matter."

Nevertheless, Mr Little asked: "Did the fact that the police and other state agencies were heavily engaged in the arrest of Kim Dotcom on behalf of US authorities consciously or unconsciously affect the decision to not prosecute John Banks?"

He also pointed to the complaint about freelance cameraman Bradley Ambrose Prime Minister John Key made to police at the last election over the so called "teapot tapes" affair.

"That complaint was investigated with urgency by the police, search warrants were executed against various media outlets and considerable pressure was put on Mr Ambrose. He later apologised to the Prime Minister and John Banks before being given a warning by the police.

"This was a highly political complaint that looked more like damage-control of a public political stunt which the Prime Minister lost control of. It should never have been entertained by the police from the outset."

Mr Little said it was in the interest of public confidence that the integrity of New Zealand's electoral system was upheld.

"Those charged with upholding that integrity must hold politicians and others to the highest standards and show they are truly independent of ministers."

That required "a high-powered inquiry independent of any other government agency" to look into recent investigations and prosecutions into allegations in the political arena, including the John Banks case.

"New Zealanders are entitled to be assured about the decision-making processes that went into the original decision not to prosecute John Banks, and the inquiry could also look at whether we need an independent agency devoted to dealing with allegations of electoral malpractice and corruption."

Mr Little today confirmed he was talking about a wide ranging anti-corruption unit dealing with issues beyond electoral rorts.

"(Justice Minister) Judith Collins said at the end of last year that the Government was going to ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption and it hasn't happened. One of requirements of the convention is a stand-alone agency dealing with corruption.

"At the moment all our anti-corruption efforts are spread across the Serious Fraud Office, police and various others."

Mr Little also believed consideration should be given to having the Electoral Commission investigate and prosecute electoral irregularities. At present they did initial evaluations and then referred matters to police for further investigation and prosecution.

"Maybe it should all go back into the Electoral Commission because they are used to dealing with the electoral system and the players in it."

Mr Little's call comes after his Labour colleague Trevor Mallard, who was one of those who pushed for a police investigation into Banks' 2010 Auckland Mayoral campaign finances, last week also raised questions over the original police decision not to prosecute.

Self-styled justice campaigners Penny Bright and Joe Karam have also called for establishment of an independent anti-corruption unit, modelled on that in New South Wales.

- NZ Herald

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