Explosive NZ First claims aired in Parliament

ACT leader Rodney Hide has made explosive allegations that New Zealand First was paid money by Simunovich Fisheries after Winston Peters had made corruption claims against it.

The allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, revolve around Simunovich Fisheries, which was at the centre of a 2003 parliamentary committee inquiry into the allocation of quota for a crustacean called scampi.

Around the time Mr Peters accused the company of corrupt behaviour, but he later recanted, saying the claims did not stand up to scrutiny. The committee subsequently cleared Simunovich of wrongdoing.

In 2004 when Mr Peters was asked if Simunovich Fisheries had donated any money to NZ First he replied: "I'm saying no". But this month he refused to repeat the denial in Parliament.

Mr Hide's allegations, included in questions to Prime Minister Helen Clark on the Government's stance on corruption, included:

* that a businessmen had told The Dominion Post newspaper he was one of several people Simunovich boss Peter Simunovich had given cheques of $9999 in 2002 to pass on to NZ First in return for Mr Peters stopping allegations of wrongdoing by Simunovich Fisheries and he had said that "sure enough within a couple of weeks Winston Peters did shut up";

* that a statement from the businessman, who was now afraid for his safety, had been passed on to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO);

* that the businessman claimed Mr Peters had gone to meet Mr Simunovich to discuss the evidence of corruption and had stated that for a payment of $50,000 "we would just slowly get rid of it";

* that the businessman had kept the bank records.

B ut Mr Peters objected to Mr Hide's questions on the basis the matter was part of a defamation case against TVNZ and Radio New Zealand and therefore sub judice.

"What he is saying is baseless and the subject of a serious defamation case."

But Mr Hide and National MPs said they were familiar with the case and the allegations in his questions did not form part of it.

Ms Wilson said she was obliged to take Mr Peters' word, but she would look into it and there were consequences for MPs who misled the House.

That did not stop Mr Hide attempting to ask further questions - eventually leading to Ms Wilson ordering him from the House.

Mr Peters later attempted to ask his own question, which appeared to suggest there may have been cheques NZ First had received from some individuals or groups but never cashed.

"If there was a subsequent series of cheques, paid some substantial time later, despite the fact that there was an inquiry in this house that concerned a business and, here's the relevant point, those cheques were never cashed."

Mr Peters was then cut off by Ms Wilson on the basis that Mr Peters himself had claimed the matter was sub judice.

The SFO is considering whether to investigate what happened to several undeclared donations to NZ First and Mr Peters.

They include a $25,000 donation from Sir Robert Jones, made out to the Spencer Trust, a $100,000 donation to Mr Peters' legal bills from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn and allegations of multiple donations from the wealthy Vela family.

Parliament's privileges committee is also looking at whether Mr Peters broke Parliament's rules by failing to declare the donation from Owen Glenn.

Miss Clark said she would continue to accept Mr Peters' word that he and his party had done nothing illegal unless contradictory evidence emerged.

- NZPA

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