Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: All aboard the cabbage boat with Banksie

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John Banks says he is unable to recall a helicopter ride to the Dotcom mansion, although helicopter log records show him as the passenger. Picture / Greg Bowker
John Banks says he is unable to recall a helicopter ride to the Dotcom mansion, although helicopter log records show him as the passenger. Picture / Greg Bowker

Can someone tell us why Dotcom is dealing to Banks?

John Banks hasn't had a week as bad as this for a long time. The ordure descended upon him last weekend on the front page of this newspaper, as his mate and campaign donor Kim Dotcom dropped it on him in terrifying proportions.

As the story went in those first 48 hours, John Banks, in mid-June 2010, setting out on his mayoral campaign was shouted a helicopter ride from Mechanics Bay to the Dotcom mansion. Mr Banks is unable to recall such a helicopter ride. If he'd been sent a helicopter for a ride to the grandest house in the country, you'd think Mr Banks would remember. We're told this week the helicopter log records Mr Banks as the passenger. It may be possible to forget one went on such a ride and Mr Dotcom's memory may be the one at fault here.

But according to Mr Dotcom, speaking cheerfully and matter of factly to the New Zealand Herald, Mr Banks remarked at Mr Dotcom's table that it was hard to raise funds in New Zealand for a mayoral campaign.

This is where it gets really messy for Mr Banks. Mr Dotcom says he "kind of liked" Mr Banks and asked Wayne Tempero, his bodyguard who was in the room at the time, to write a cheque for $50,000. Mr Dotcom says Mr Banks's eyes became bigger.

Then, it is said, Mr Tempero asked the chief financial officer to come into the room and write a cheque. At that point, claims the Dotcom camp, Mr Banks suggested he write two cheques so that he wouldn't publicly have to declare the donation.

That statement, if made, in itself indicates a desire to circumvent the spirit of the Electoral Act. This is already bad for Mr Banks.

It gets worse for Mr Banks when, according to Mr Dotcom, Mr Banks called a few days later to tell him the cheques had cleared the bank and to thank him. Meaning, Mr Banks knew Mr Dotcom had made a $50,000 donation. This donation was never declared as having come from Mr Dotcom. It was presumably, if it was made to Mr Banks, one of several anonymous $25,000 donations.

When I put all this to Mr Banks on Q+A last weekend, he denied everything. I think he did. I don't really know what he was doing. He said all of this was a distraction and I really should be asking David Parker, who was on live with him, about the soon-to-disintegrate Labour leadership. I said that I didn't want to discuss that, I was more interested in this Dotcom matter and whether he had failed to declare a large donation for a campaign from someone he'd seen writing out the cheques.

Mr Banks said he did not come up the river on the last cabbage boat. I hadn't heard that expression before but I think it's the same as the one I know, which is, "I didn't come over on the last ship with a foot down each funnel." Meaning, whichever expression you use, I ain't silly.

But there are doubts about when the cheques were actually written. If Mr Banks didn't see them being written, there remains a chance he didn't know that any funds came from Mr Dotcom. He disputes phoning to thank Mr Dotcom for the money.

If Mr Banks didn't know the money came from Mr Dotcom when he declared the donation anonymous, then he is in the clear. If he did know the money came from Mr Dotcom and he declared it anonymous, he's done for.

The Banks business would be serious if it weren't so funny. That is John Banks's ultimate strength. He is an eccentrically funny man; he will swear black is white and for some dumb reason you love him for it even though you know you're being suckered. The gall is wonderful. Nothing to fear, says Mr Banks, quite cheerfully.

Nevertheless, it seems obvious to me - $50,000 dollars is a big sum. It's a big score for a mayoral campaign. Listen to me. If Mr Dotcom donated $50,000, I think it highly likely that Mr Banks would have known about it.

Then again, as I say, he might not have. It's possible Mr Banks didn't know. Someone might be setting Mr Banks up here.

I haven't met Kim Dotcom. His un-selfconscious enjoyment of his wealth is obvious. He's a big, once-in-a-lifetime character. Those I've spoken to who know him adore him. They use the word "genius", and speak of a brilliantly inquiring mind. And they point out that this is a man who came to live here because he loves New Zealand.

But I suspect he's also a very hard man. Much harder than Mr Banks.

Mr Dotcom may simply feel that Mr Banks could have helped him more than he did when he was so unceremoniously thrown in the slammer.

The question most certainly is why is Mr Dotcom doing this to John Banks now? Whatever happened, donation or no donation, helicopter ride or no helicopter ride, someone is selling Mr Banks out badly.

I like John Banks. I'm not going to be a hypocrite and deny it. But if he knew Kim Dotcom was throwing money into his campaign and failed to say so, then he acted most unwisely.

- NZ Herald

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