Foreign Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters may face a political crisis after a meeting this morning of the privileges committee to discuss a statement from billionaire Owen Glenn about a donation.
The committee is conducting an inquiry into a $100,000 donation from Mr Glenn in 2005 that went to Mr Peters' legal fees for the Tauranga electoral challenge.
Mr Peters has assured Prime Minister Helen Clark he found out about the payment only on July 18 this year after his lawyer, Brian Henry, told him.
If Mr Glenn's statement says that he discussed the donation with Mr Peters, then the minister's credibility will be seriously challenged.
Mr Glenn has said nothing about the donation since Mr Peters issued a statement on July 18 saying he had just found out about it.
Mr Peters emphatically denied in February - with a "No" sign - that he or his party had received any donation from Mr Glenn.
Doubt was cast on that denial when the Herald on July 12 published emails between Mr Glenn and a public relations consultant in Auckland, Steve Fisher, which showed Mr Glenn believed he had made a donation.
Helen Clark said yesterday in Parliament she'd accept Mr Peters' word "unless something arises out of the privileges committee or some other appropriate authority". That suggests she may reserve judgment until the committee's final report.
The privileges committee held an open hearing last week at which Mr Peters reiterated he had not discussed a donation with Mr Glenn.
Mr Peters is already under pressure with the Serious Fraud Office assessing whether a formal investigation is warranted into New Zealand First party donations, after a complaint by Act leader Rodney Hide.
In Parliament yesterday he was also subject to allegations of corruption by Mr Hide relating to cheques from Peter Simunovich of Simunovich Fisheries. Mr Peters told Parliament "those cheques were never cashed".
He said the allegations were "baseless" and that because they were the subject of a defamation case against five defendants, including TVNZ and Radio New Zealand, they should be sub judice.
Mr Hide was eventually thrown out of the House in a dispute with the Speaker about how sub judice limited what he could say, but not before making serious allegations.
Mr Hide referred to a discussion about the payment of $50,000 at a meeting between Mr Peters and Mr Simunovich.
He cited two former business associates of Mr Simunovich, neither of whom were named.
He said one had written cheques for Mr Simunovich to New Zealand First and had kept the bank records "just in case anything went wrong".
Referring to a statement by another businessman, Mr Hide said he was one of several people to whom Mr Simunovich gave $9999.95 in 2002 to pass on to New Zealand First.
Quoting a statement by the businessman, Mr Hide said the money was in exchange for Mr Peters "shutting up about his allegations of wrongdoing against Simunovich Fisheries" and that "sure enough within a couple weeks, Winston Peters did shut up".
Simunovich Fisheries were under scrutiny in 2003 during a parliamentary select committee inquiry into the allocation of scampi fishing rights but were cleared of wrongdoing.
Mr Hide raised the allegations in questions to Helen Clark. He suggested the statement passed on to the Serious Fraud Office referred to a meeting between Mr Peters and Mr Simunovich: "Does the Prime Minister think it is a good look for her Government to be abolishing the Serious Fraud Office just as it is assessing the complaint made by a former business associate of Peter Simunovich that her Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, went to see Peter Simunovich to show him the evidence of corruption he had against Peter Simunovich and stated that through a payment of $50,000 'we would just slowly get rid of it,' or will she just keep accepting her Minister of Foreign Affairs' word that he has done nothing wrong?"