Each weekday The Front Page keeps you up to date with the biggest news in New Zealand. Today it's the National party being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, Eric Watson loses one of the biggest tax cases in New Zealand history, and the scooter wars heat up. Hosted by Frances Cook.

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Police have referred Jami-Lee Ross' complaint about National's election donations to the Serious Fraud Office.

Ross was kicked out of the National Party last year.

In October he went to police with details of alleged donation fraud in which he claimed leader Simon Bridges was a "corrupt politician with no moral compass".


The Botany MP claims Bridges had asked him to collect a $100,000 donation from businessman Yikun Zhang in May which was then split into smaller amounts to hide it. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Zhang.

A police statement today says the complaint was referred to the SFO as they hold the appropriate mandate to look into the matters raised by the investigation to date.

The Serious Fraud Office investigates serious or complex fraud. It prioritises cases where those allegedly involved are in important positions of trust, or where there are allegations of bribery and corruption.

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Leader Simon Bridges says he is confident his hands are clean.

He's denied any wrongdoing over how National handled donations, and says National has good processes to dealing with political donations.

Bridges says he didn't instruct anyone to break up the $100,000 donation, nor did he say anything that could have been interpreted that way.

He says the investigation has nothing to do with him, and it's for the party to deal with.

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The man who started it all, Jami-Lee Ross, says he is pleased the Serious Fraud Office is looking into it.


"Every time I've been told I'm wrong or baseless, I come up with something," Ross told reporters this afternoon.

"Simon was offered the $100,000 donation on the 21st of May. I was not there on the 21st of May."

Ross previously alleged Bridges, MP Todd McClay and party general manager Greg Hamilton all knew about the donation being split up so it wouldn't have to be declared.

Last October Ross had a two-hour meeting with police during which he played a recording of a conversation between Bridges and himself.

He then publicly released the phone recording along with text messages between him and Hamilton.

But Otago Law Professor and electoral law expert Andrew Geddis says the conversations did not show anything concretely illegal.

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Controversial playboy Eric Watson has lost a long-running dispute with Inland Revenue, with a High Court justice ruling companies he owns are liable for $51.5 million in back-taxes.

In a ruling this afternoon at the High Court in Auckland, Justice Matthew Palmer says a complex 2002 transaction - involving Cayman Island companies while Watson himself was relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom for tax purposes - was an avoidance arrangement.

The case represents one of the largest tax judgments in New Zealand history. Watson's Cullen Group was ruled liable for $51.5m in back taxes, plus interest and penalties.

During a three-week trial last year the court heard Inland Revenue considered interest costs alone amounted to $60.5m.

The consequences for Watson personally from today's ruling are unclear, but they represent another setback for the increasingly beleaguered businessmen.

Since becoming a society page fixture in the 2000s with lavish living and relationships with lingerie models, Watson has since faced fallout from the collapse of Hanover Finance and a succession of losses in high-stakes court proceedings against fellow mogul Sir Owen Glenn.

Today's ruling is a significant milestone in a protracted legal struggle.

The trial last year heard Inland Revenue's interest in Watson stretched back more than a decade and the proceedings had their origin in a 2004 audit of the rich-lister.

This may not be the final word on the case however, as both sides still have the possibility to launch an appeal.

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Police investigating the murder of Denver Chance have found his vehicle.

Chance's red Nissan Skyline was found hidden at the Kingseat property where his body was found on Sunday.

Police are still carrying out inquiries into his death, and say they can't rule out the possibility of further charges being laid as part of the investigation.

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A date has been set for the re-entry of the Pike River mine drift.

The Minister Responsible, Andrew Little, says re-entry and recovering the access tunnel is scheduled for May 3.

Spokesman for some of the Pike River families, Bernie Monk, says its more than a milestone.

Monk they have been waiting for this day for years and the current Government has really stepped up to the plate.

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New Zealand's aviation safety authority isn't taking any action on Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in spite of other regulators around the world grounding the planes following the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

It had just taken off from Addis Ababa for Nairobi on Sunday, when it reported technical problems and asked for permission to turn back.

The plane crashed shortly after, killing all 157 people on board.

The Civil Aviation Authority says it is satisfied with the steps the only operator of the plane to this country, Fiji Airways, has taken to ensure safety.

The plane is used on the Nadi-Wellington route.

A CAA spokesperson says they'll continue to closely monitor the Ethiopian Airlines investigation, in case any facts come out that would cause them to review their decision.

Chinese and Indonesian aviation authorities have ordered the grounding of MAX 8s and Cayman Airways and Ethiopian Airways have chosen to park their planes following the crash on Sunday.

There are about 350 of the aircraft in operation and the crash was the second one in six months of the MAX 8. The first was a Lion Air plane in Indonesia which raised the possibility of anti-stall software being erroneously activated by incorrect flight data.

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Thousands of extra measles vaccines are on their way to Canterbury amid an outbreak which has left some clinics running dry.

There are 25 confirmed cases of the disease and huge demand for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

Over the next 24 hours, 18,000 extra doses of the vaccine are being transported to Canterbury, with the first batch due to arrive today. They'll be available from Wednesday, with more supply to follow.

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the number of measles cases are expected to rise and people needed to ensure their vaccinations are up to date.

"Vaccination is the best protection against this serious and highly infectious virus that spreads very easily from person to person.".

Pharmac, the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) and the Ministry of Health are working closely together to ensure there are vaccines available to the people who need them.

Priority groups for the vaccine ar
e children and young adults (5 to 28 years old) who are not immunised or have only received one MMR dose to date, children 12 months to 5 years who have never received any doses of MMR, and adults aged 29-50 years as this group only received one dose of measles vaccine.

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Sheep milk products could be the next hot thing, with a new processing plant in Hamilton promising to deliver $129 million in sheep milk exports.

Growing global demand for sheep milk products has spurred the project, which will be operational by next February.

Spring Sheep chief executive Scottie Chapman says the global sheep milk industry is estimated to be worth US$8 billion ($11.6b) at the farm gate and US$30b at retail.
The industry is growing rapidly with Asia currently the biggest consumer.

The ancient milk, is also popular in Europe, particularly in France, Greece, Spain, Netherlands, Sardinia and the Middle East.

Sheep milk is mostly consumed as cheese but is increasingly being used in yoghurts, liquid milks, butter, icecream, gelato, nutritional foods and beverages.

Chapman says there is growing demand for a high quality alternative milk due to lactose intolerance and dairy protein allergies, along with more awareness of health and wellness in the Asia Pacific region.

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An Auckland rugby coach who was jailed for 22 years after being found guilty on 95 charges of sexually abusing young boys, may face more time behind bars.

Last month Alosio Taimo, was given the sentence following a trial at the High Court in Auckland.

However, the Crown has now appealed.

It's understood the Crown will argue the sentencing judge was wrong to impose a finite sentence after Taimo's long history of offending.

Instead, the Crown will argue, he should have imposed preventive detention.

Preventive detention is an indeterminate prison sentence where, even if prisoners are released on parole, they remain under the management and monitoring of Corrections for the rest of their life.

The Crown previously argued for Taimo to be sentenced to preventive detention due to the seriousness of the case and his denial of the offending.

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After five months enjoying Auckland streets to itself, Lime e-scooters now have a rival.

Wave officially joined the city's e-scooter trial today with a powhiri at Te Puea Memorial Marae in Māngere.

Wave's scooters will cost $1 upfront, then 30 cents a minute, matching Lime's pricing.
Auckland Transport Chief Executive Shane Ellison says Wave will be trialling speed limited areas, automatically restricting its scooters to 15km/h in areas with lots of people walking.

There are now three trial e-scooter operators licensed for Auckland: the San Francisco-based multinational Lime, which enjoys hundreds of millions in backing from key investors Uber and Google; the Brisbane-based Wave - which bills itself as Australia's first scooter-sharing startup and lists 10 employees on its LinkedIn page - and local contender Onzo, which is yet to say if or when it will put scooters on streets to complement its bikes.

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That's the Front Page for today, Tuesday, March 12, making sure you're across the biggest news of the day. For more on these stories, check out The New Zealand Herald, or tune in to Newstalk ZB.
You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts here, iHeartRadio here, and Stitcher here.
If you like to stay up to date on social media, you can find host Frances Cook on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.