A judge is again contemplating if two people charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after an investigation into donations involving the NZ First Foundation should be publicly named.
Today, the first defendant argued for continued suppression at an appeal hearing in the High Court at Auckland. It came more than a year after a District Court judge dismissed his initial application.
The two accused deny the SFO's allegations surrounding donations to the foundation — reported to have bankrolled the NZ First political party — and have earlier pleaded not guilty to charges of obtaining by deception.
At the time the charges were initially laid in September 2020, neither were a minister, sitting MP, a candidate in the 2020 election or a member of their staff, or a current member of the New Zealand First political party.
The first defendant's lawyer, Davey Salmon QC, told the court this morning if his client was identified it "will have a permanent effect on him" and "work will dry up if his name is released".
But Paul Wicks QC — prosecuting the case for the SFO alongside John Dixon QC — argued potential damage from publication "falls well short" of the legal threshold for suppression.
Robert Stewart, who is acting for a consortium of media organisations, including the Herald's publisher NZME, added the consequences of publicity are "the ordinary consequences" of someone in the first defendant's career and position.
The second defendant has not sought suppression but cannot be named without identifying the first defendant.
After hearing the relatively brief arguments, Justice Mary Peters reserved her decision.
However, Salmon said if the judgment went against his client he would seek a second challenge to the Court of Appeal to maintain anonymity.
Today's appeal came after North Shore District Court Judge Deidre Orchard dismissed an application by the first defendant for suppression in December 2020.
The first defendant earlier complained the case has been "politicised" and was an attack on NZ First leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.
But in her decision, Judge Orchard said: "This ignores the fact that the prosecution alleges impropriety in the way funds have been solicited from donors to a prominent New Zealand political party ... In my view the subject matter is inherently political. It is bound to attract considerable media attention and that attention is legitimate."
As part of his initial suppression argument, the first defendant had also called on controversial blogger Cameron Slater to support him with an affidavit.
Efforts to name the accused stem from before the 2020 general election, when NZME and the group of media companies took legal action in an attempt to inform voters before they hit the polls but were unsuccessful. The NZ First Party also failed in a bid to stop the charges from becoming public until after a government was formed.
Winston Peters has distanced himself from the foundation and has denied any wrongdoing after it first came under scrutiny in November 2019.
When the allegations became public, Peters also claimed he and the party were "exonerated" and was critical of the SFO's decision to lay charges near the time of the election.
Meanwhile, two criminal cases over allegations of unlawful donations to both the Labour and National parties will be heard together at a joint High Court trial beginning in July.