Candidate and mayor's mistress at odds over conspiracy claims

Under-fire John Palino broke cover yesterday to label claims he engineered a right-wing conspiracy to unseat Auckland Mayor Len Brown as absurd.

The losing mayoral candidate admitted meeting Brown's mistress Bevan Chuang in a Mission Bay carpark the day after he lost the election.

But Palino denied he was part of a plan to force Brown to resign, and said he knew only that Chuang had received "persistent and unwanted propositions from the mayor. Suggestions now that I, an entrepreneur, TV personality and political novice, am somehow orchestrating some grand right-wing conspiracy to unseat Len after the election are so wrong and so absurd they do not stand up to even the remotest test of common sense," he said.

Palino said he met Chuang only to discuss threatening text messages they had both received in the lead-up to the election.


"To find myself now the principal target of those seeking to divert attention from Mayor Brown when I am trying to catch my breath is frustrating and upsetting."

Last night, Chuang told the Herald on Sunday she restated her claims that Palino knew of the affair.

A spokesman for Chuang said: "Bevan stands by her statement that Mr Palino met with her, urged her to proceed with the affidavit against Mr Brown, and promised her that no negative repercussions would come to her if she did so."

Palino is on holiday in Melbourne with his fiance Rose Li and did not respond to further requests for comment.

His words came amid a bitter battle yesterday between senior members of the Palino team and National Party insiders.

Palino's election team was tearing itself apart last night over who was aware of the Brown affair.

Rob Nesbit-Savage, who left as campaign manager in June, said he was saddened by Palino's behaviour.

"If it's true, he would have lost all credibility with me. I'd be quite disgusted. I'm also disappointed that Len seems to be getting away scot-free and ignored," Nesbit-Savage said.


National Party campaigner and volunteer Hamish Price said that he was approached to write Palino's campaign policy, but it was only four months out from the election and such a big job that he couldn't have done it as a volunteer.

Price did not rate political strategist Luigi Wewege or others involved in the Palino campaign.

"People who weren't wanted elsewhere, or had zero campaign experience. No significant current National Party figures went near the campaign, as it was generally known to be entirely dysfunctional."

However, campaign manager and former National Party president John Slater hit back and said Palino had been consistent with what he had said all week.

He said Price was persona non grata after being denied a job with the Palino team.

Another campaign aide said Palino compared Brown's adultery to "murder" after news of the affair broke. "I said: 'Did you say this to try and bring him down? Is that what you're doing?"'


Palino allegedly replied: "Well, all I can say is, if you heard that somebody murdered somebody, wouldn't you want to tell other people about it?"

Despite key players describing themselves as National Party activists, Prime Minister John Key would not be drawn on how the fiasco reflected on his party.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said no one was paid by the National Party to work on the campaign.

Brown has also taken the weekend off to spend with family - something he had planned to do long in advance of the scandal, a spokesman said.

He would not comment on Palino's statement.

Brown plans to resume normal duties this week with a visit to Three Kings Primary School on Monday.