Former National Party fundraiser Rita Albano says she was told the amount of money given to the party by Fay Richwhite' />

By FRAN O'SULLIVAN and NZPA

Former National Party fundraiser Rita Albano says she was told the amount of money given to the party by Fay Richwhite for the 1996 election campaign could have been only half that promised.

Ms Albano, who masterminded National's corporate fundraising drive for four elections between 1990 and 1999, said Fay, Richwhite interests pledged a "major sum" for the 1996 election.

She did not disclose the amount, but said a party audit started two years after the 1996 election confirmed that not all the Fay, Richwhite-related pledges were paid.

A Herald investigation into the National Party donations affair has revealed that former party treasurer Michael Cox - a prime fundraiser for the 1996 election - banked one donation from Fay, Richwhite directly into the party's accounts.

Mr Cox picked up the $50,000 cheque himself from the Fay, Richwhite interests.

The Fay, Richwhite-related cheque is understood to have been made before an electoral law change required political parties to disclose the source of campaign donations.

Two other donations, totalling $250,000, were also placed in the trust fund of former National Party president Geoff Thompson's Wellington legal firm in March 1996 before being transferred to the party's campaign fund in June, three months later.

The donations, of $150,000 and $100,000, were made anonymously.

But Mr Thompson said this week he believed they were from the Fay, Richwhite group.

National Party president John Slater called in the party's auditor to investigate after Ms Albano reported a substantial discrepancy between the 1996 corporate pledges and the amount the party received, on which her bonus was paid.

But Ms Albano said the auditor found only a part of "what I thought would come in" from the Fay, Richwhite interests.

"John Slater reported back to me saying ... the amount that was promised [from Fay, Richwhite] was indeed different to the amount that the party had received," she said.

'The front half that they found I got paid on, but the other half which I thought would come apparently did not, so I did not get paid on that."

A Serious Fraud Office investigation - which party president Michelle Boag claims is politically inspired - has started.

The Electoral Commission is also investigating whether the $250,000 deposited in the Macalister Mazengarb law firm's trust account before being transferred to National Party accounts breached electoral rules by not being declared.

Chief executive Paul Harris said the commission was obliged to refer any irregularities it found to police.

Mr Harris said he had written to the National Party yesterday seeking information "about the date on which the donation from Fay, Richwhite ... was received by or on behalf of the party".

On April 1 that year, a law came into effect requiring political parties to disclose donations of more than $10,000.

"If a donation was received before then, it's of no interest to us," Mr Harris said.

"If it was received after then ... it should have been included in the party's return of donations."

Ms Boag said the donation was received before April 1.

The register from April to December 1996 shows National declared no anonymous donations and two national donations totalling $45,000 as well as $125,426 in electorate donations.

The transfer of the money between the trust account run by Mr Thompson and the party's coffers could make a difference "and that's something we'll be getting some advice on", Mr Harris said.

The law says a prosecution has to be taken within six months of an alleged breach.

In other developments yesterday:

* Ms Boag said Mr Cox - who revealed in yesterday's Herald that Mr Thompson was pressured to transfer the $250,000 promptly into the party's accounts - appeared to have broken a treasurer's duty of confidentiality by discussing the party's finances with the newspaper.

* She threatened to expel from the party any official involved in the complaint to the SFO.

* National leader Bill English distanced himself from the party's internal wrangling over the investigation, saying any concerns about how it had handled donations should be investigated competently and quickly so he could get on with his job.

Ms Boag said that if she found out "one of ours" had laid the complaint to the SFO, " I would personally seek to expel them from the party".

She said Mr Slater had denied being the culprit, and she had told him that if she found it was him she would seek to have him expelled.