Judith Collins is distancing herself and her party from former candidate Jake Bezzant, calling his recent actions some of the "most disgraceful things" she's seen in politics.
The former party member, who ran for Upper Harbour at the 2020 Election, resigned this week after allegations surfaced he impersonated his former partner and shared explicit images of her online without her consent.
Bezzant denies the allegations, adding: "Personal relationship break-ups sometimes get messy. Two sides to every story."
Collins, who has largely gone to ground this week amid the Bezzant scandal and shock resignation of veteran MP Nick Smith over an employment inquiry, is now calling for a more rigorous selection process for the party.
Collins said she only found out about the allegations on Tuesday evening.
"When I found out on Tuesday evening about what Jake Bezzant had been up to I thought that was one of the most disgraceful things that I've ever seen in politics and I'm just glad he wasn't an MP," she said.
Collins said she still had confidence in the party's president Peter Goodfellow, who last year said he carried out investigations into other allegations about Bezzant's business and tech credentials.
"It is a tough job, the discussions were had, the investigations [were] had, I have to take that at its face value," she said.
But she said the selection process that allowed Bezzant to slip through in the first place needed to be widened, with more checks.
"I don't think people in the party were on Snapchat looking for Jake Bezzant and his perversions frankly," she said.
Bezzant had been touted as a rising star for the party, and in recent weeks had even been present at party conferences across the country.
Collins said it showed "you can't always take everything at face value ".
"I had no idea about what he was actually doing and what sort of fantasist, possibly sociopath, he is. I didn't know about him."
Speaking about Smith, Collins denied she had anything to do with his decision to resign.
Smith on Monday said details of a Parliamentary Services inquiry into a "verbal altercation" he had in his Wellington office with a staff member had been leaked to media, and was one of the reasons why he decided to resign.
No such details have been published by any media so far.
Smith said he'd been warned on Friday of a story to come out on Tuesday.
Asked if she had warned Smith, Collins said any discussions she had with MPs were private.
"I will always tell our MPs if I hear a story that is possibly adverse to them, just as every leader did the same for me," she said.
She said she hoped Smith would return to Parliament before his last day on June 10.
"I understand Nick is certainly contemplating coming back next week for a few days and certainly I would love for him to undertake a valedictory.
"I think after 30 years of service, it will be a real shame if he couldn't," she said.