Coroner on Greg King

October 18th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Top lawyer Greg King took his life, depressed, burnt-out, and haunted by the dead from the cases he had known.

Coroner Garry Evans has released his findings into the death of King, 43, whose body was found on November 3, last year, in Dungarvan Rd, Newlands, Wellington, not far from his Mercedes car.

In the car was a typewritten note that began:

“To everyone: How can I explain the unexplainable?”

It said that after nearly 20 years as a defence lawyer he was burnt out, disillusioned and depressed.

“He says he is haunted by the dead from his numerous homicide cases and hates himself for what he has done,” Evans said.

“He says he has been genuinely torn between doing his job and his conscience, which keeps asking him ‘Is this really what you want to be doing?’”

I don’t think I could be a criminal defence attorney. I admire those who can, because it is vital defendants get fair trials and are only found guilty if there is no reasonable doubt. But I would personally struggle with defending those accused of certain vile crimes. I think I would struggle to cope, as Greg King obviously did. It is a mark of his humanity that just performing his role caused him such anguish (not to suggest those without such anguish are  inhumane).

In his finding, Evans mostly paraphrases the note in which King spoke of the experiences with criminals that had dulled his human senses and the victims of serious crime who affected him profoundly.

What a sad loss.

Milnes-King had told the coroner her husband had a massive breakdown in June, 2012, the night after delivering his closing address for Ewen Macdonald in the Scott Guy murder trial.

The trial had taken a substantial toll on him and his breakdown was the most intense she had seen, going on for hours whereas he would usually be able to pick himself up.

In a sense he is a further victim of that tragedy,

In the week before King’s death, The Dominion Post’s investigative reporter Phil Kitchin had approached King about an allegation from a disgruntled former client of irregularities in legal aid billing.

The Ministry of Justice, which administers legal aid, had found King’s legal aid bill for the client’s case had been “well within” the range of what was reasonable and to be expected but in King’s absence the investigation could not be taken further.

A senior police officer who investigated King’s death thought that, in King’s frame of mind at the time, the thought of a media circus over legal aid could have felt overwhelming, but Milnes-King thought her husband was unlikely to have been unduly worried by the allegations made against him.

I think it was probably a factor, but not a determinative factor. The Herald reports:

The police officer who investigated Mr King’s death, Detective Inspector Paul Basham, said he had investigated matters involving Dominion Post investigative reporter Phil Kitchin, who was looking into allegations made against Mr King by a former client.

The disgruntled client had alleged irregularities in legal aid billing.

But he said Ms Milnes-King believed her husband was unlikely to have been unduly bothered by the allegations, and there was no mention in the suicide note.

Kitchin gave evidence he had contacted Mr King on November 1, two days before Mr King was found dead, but described their conversation as “cordial, courteous, professional and polite”.

He told Mr King it was possible he would not publish a story.

What would be interesting to know is whether or not a story was written and was in the system, so to speak. But I think it is far to conclude that the inquiries by the Dominion Post were not a major factor, and were not improper. Of course it is all speculation, as we don’t know exactly what led to the sad decision, but the lack of any mention in the suicide note is influential.

Ms Milnes-King said her husband had helped a lot of individuals and organisations on a pro bono basis, and had a charitable spirit which saw him engaged with numerous groups.

“He represented clients for free and made many unpaid trips to the West Coast acting for the Pike River contractors who were left out of pocket after the tragedy.

“This is an extremely difficult time for our family. With the first anniversary of Greg’s death in a few weeks, we trust people fully understand and respect our need for private time.”

Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar said New Zealand had lost one of the greatest men he had the good fortune to meet.

“Greg gave his time willingly and freely to assist many of the families and victims within the wider Sensible Sentencing Trust family,” Mr McVicar said.

“Greg’s knowledge of the law, his passion for people from all walks of life and his drive to leave society better than he found it was unique and irreplaceable.’

Such a glowing tribute to a defence lawyer from the Sensible Sentencing Trust shows how special Greg King was.  The only good to come out of this will be more people confronting their depression and mental health issues at an early stage to avoid further situations like this.

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Investigative Journalism & Winston

November 10th, 2010 at 2:17 pm by David Farrar

NBR carry an NZPA story on Winston’s latest claim:

Overseas ownership of New Zealand news media outlets is in the political spotlight, with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters saying it has eroded journalism standards.

A traditional opponent of overseas ownership, Mr Peters told NZPA he was concerned about the profits of domestic media, banking and forestry companies going off shore.

“It has also led to serious erosion of media standards and journalism reporting because people are given no time to do any work properly, instant sound bites have become the name of the game, and that is sliding its way into tabloid journalism,” Mr Peters said.

International companies that owned New Zealand media outlets had failed to support investigative journalism and had “squeezed the professional capacity” out of the industry, he said.

“I’m the last one in the world that should be making a sympathetic argument for the journalists of this country, but I’m telling you that’s exactly what happened.”

Proper investigative journalism was essential for the democracy of a nation, Mr Peters said.

Now normally I ignore what Winston says, but the irony here is too great. I actually agree we need more investigative journalism, but we do have some sterling examples of good investigative journalism by Fairfax and APN journalists. Namely the superb work done by reports Phil Kitchin, David Fisher, Audrey Young and others in exposing the tissue of lies Winston told about the funding of NZ First and himself by various wealthy businesspeople. It was investigative journalism at its finest and exposed Peters as a charlatan whose reality was the direct opposite of what he railed again.

The comments thread on the NBR story has some superb contributions, such as Phil Kitchin:

I’d love to get answers to questions Winston has never answered Monaco Consul. But the two answers Winston gave me when I got to speak to him during my investigation into NZ First funding and all the lies about the Spencer Trust were…1) Phil, I’m not speaking to a lying wanker (then the phone went dead), and 2) Phil, I’ve told you I’m not speaking to a lying gripper. Do you know what that is, it is a lying wanker who won’t let go (then the phone went dead).

Yes Winston is an unusual champion of investigative journalism. It is like Al Capone criticising the IRS for not cracking down hard enough on tax fraud.

Bill Ralston chimes in:

Congratulations NBR! That is the funniest story I’ve read in years. Hopefully Winston’s return to the political scene will encourage investigative journalists and grippers to reopen their old files and start digging again and he may get his wish!

And Fran O’Sullivan:

Give us break – Audrey Young (NZ Herald owned by APN News & Media) blew the Owen Glenn fiasco open. Phil Kitchin completed the double in the (Dom-Post owned by Fairfax). Great investigative reporting by two first-class journalists working for Aust owned media but under good Kiwi editors.

Exactly. And remember Labour is working hard to get Winston back into Parliament, as they don’t stand a chance without him.

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A great waste of money

March 22nd, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin keeps up his good work in exposing government wrongdoing and waste. His latest is on a $3 million TPK contract:

The sloppiness of a $3 million contract to help Maori businesses earn export dollars is revealed in documents showing consultants received hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money – for targets they couldn’t prove they had met. Phil Kitchin reports.

The debacle over the suspended Tekau Plus project has drawn an admission from Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer that the government agency has a “big lesson” to learn.

The project has been frozen and Mr Comer now concedes the contract was extraordinarily loose and wishy washy.

Project bosses repeatedly relied on management cliches about “outputs”, “establishing soft network clusters” and “bigger picture value propositions” when they were pressed for proof that goals were being achieved.

That should ring warning bells.

At one stage those running the Tekau project refused to provide details, claiming commercial sensitivity – even though they were spending taxpayer money and the government department that gave it to them wanted to know how it was being used.

And that should have rung even bigger warning bells.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, obtained by The Dominion Post, shows that in one three-month period taxpayers forked out $60,000 for project consultants to analyse seven media stories, eight economic updates, a business awards list, a 13-page essay and reports on an education programme.

Now repeat after me – there is no waste in Government. Yeah Right.

In another three-month period consultants received $33,000 for analysis and research including “developing a strategy for a clear strategy forward” and “ensuring offshore studies add value”.

Developing a strategy for a strategy – they must have been pissing themselves with laughter when they wrote that response.

THE leadup to the Tekau project being suspended began in October last year – two years after it began and after two-thirds of the $3 million in funds had been spent.

So it begin in October 2007.

The one bright light there is that TPK at least realised they were being fobbed off and kept going back asking for proof of outputs. However they should have acted far more quickly in terminating funding, in my opinion.

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Maritime NZ

March 24th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin has done another fine investigation – this time into MaritimeNZ. The quick summary is the CEO instructed investigators for a boating fatality to only investigate the crash and sinking, and not the response by rescue organisations – as one of them was managed by MaritimeNZ.

One investigator rightfully said that the response is critical as that is the difference between someone just having a bath and drowning at sea.

The Dom Post editorial says:

The emails obtained by The Dominion Post show that when controversy about the rescue emerged, Maritime NZ director Catherine Taylor and senior manager Peter Williams decided the search and rescue operation would not form part of the investigation. In one email, investigator Captain Ian Webb was instructed to confine his inquiries “to the sinking”.

Maritime NZ sources have told The Dominion Post that Mr Webb, who was sacked before his report was completed, successfully challenged that instruction. In a reply, also obtained by The Dominion Post, he said he was aware of the “political sensitivities” of the case, but was conscious of what could occur when the integrity of an investigation was made subordinate to other concerns.

“It is not reasonable to confine this or any investigation to the point at which the vessel foundered,” he said. “It is the conditions and events following the sinking which decide whether the boat’s occupants merely suffer from an unscheduled bath or die.”

Absolutely.

According to Ms Taylor, it is “standard practice” for Maritime NZ not to investigate any other parts of its organisation so there can be no allegations of a conflict of interest.

However, it is Maritime NZ’s failure to investigate itself that raises questions of a conflict of interest in this case. What is the point of an investigation that ignores salient information?

Mr Hampton’s parents are seeking an inquiry into the way Maritime NZ investigated their son’s death. Their request should be granted, but the inquiry should be widened to address other issues raised by the case.

I think and hope the Government will do an inquiry into this. Public organisations need public confidence.

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Dunne also implicated in Meurant papers

November 3rd, 2008 at 7:47 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin (and Oskar Alley) shows his independence by revealing that Peter Dunne also gets a mention in the Meurant papers with a $5,000 donation linked to his vote on a UN fishing plan. Dunne is denying a link.

While on a much much smaller scale than Winston (who appears to have had his entire policy process for sale), even one case like this is a cause for concern.

I agree with the Greens with their call to have a commission of inquiry into the Winston Peters cash-for-policies allegations. It goes without saying that any party implicated, should also be included in the terms of reference.

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A time-line of corruption

November 1st, 2008 at 12:05 pm by David Farrar

Just seen an additional story in the Dom Post. The timeline. Damning. And remember as you read this, Helen has personally granted permission for Peters to keep the $40,000 the Velas gifted him. Some extracts:

October 5 report: Mr Meurant records that Mr Vela met Mr Peters and indicated a promise of a board appointment on a state-owned enterprise.

December 1 report: Mr Meurant says Mr Peters is devastated by the party’s loss in the November elections. He tells Mr Vela that, if Mr Peters or Doug Woolerton ask for the promised $30,000, he should tell them they had agreed to put Mr Meurant on a government corporation board but could not deliver on that now.

Nor could NZ First get its policies that Mr Vela liked introduced. Remind them it had been agreed that Mr Meurant would head NZ First’s research unit on a taxpayer salary.

Tell them: “I have delivered. Two lots of 10 grand and the provision of a helicopter. I think it is time for you to produce something engage him [Mr Meurant] as your research manager.” Mr Meurant says: “If Winston does engage me, I still want to work for you and will give your projects priority.”

December 10: Mr Meurant writes to Mr Peters applying for NZ First policy adviser job (and sends a job application copy to Mr Vela). He says Mr Peters suggested a salary of $60,000 with a “top-up” from the private sector, which he has found. He says he will obtain donations for NZ First and suggests he be responsible for policy development in fishing and thoroughbred industries and “taxation”.

He says he will rebuild NZ First as a “sector interest (ie fishing, thoroughbred) party” and obtain corporate funding by producing “industry sector-friendly policies”. “Providing NZ First reflects the concerns of the sector groups it targets, financial contributions from the corporate groups will be forthcoming.

“Deliver on what you promise and the corporates I have exposure to will stay with you.” He tells Mr Peters to start with the commercial fishing and racing industries.

And he did deliver – once Helen Clark appointed him Minister of Racing.

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Campaign 08 on Winston

October 21st, 2008 at 8:12 pm by David Farrar

For professional Winston watchers, the Campaign 08 discussion on Peters is worth a watch – just click play on the main page. Peters refused to appear but Phil Kitchin, Duncan Garner, Vernon Small, Bill Ralston and Barry Soper discuss his highs and lows.

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Taxpayer paid for Winston’s winebox costs

August 29th, 2008 at 7:09 am by David Farrar

Another Phil Kitchin story in the Dom Post:

Remember this exchange in May:

Mr Peters answered questions in Parliament on May 10, 2006, about Winebox legal fees.

National MP Tau Henare, a former NZ First MP and caucus colleague of Mr Peters, asked the NZ First leader: “Who paid the legal fees for the Winebox?”

Mr Peters replied: “Who paid for the Winebox inquiry? Yours truly … I would never have thought Tau Henare would have the temerity to raise that question. Shame on the member. I had to carry the whole can by myself.”

Sounds very clear. Peters carried the whole can by himself. Except …

However, four bills obtained by The Dominion Post, all dated June 2, 1995, and from Mr Henry to former NZ First staff member Terry Heffernan, suggest Mr Peters appears to have misled Parliament. The bills total nearly $24,000 and were coded as being paid by Parliamentary Service.

Misleading Parliament is very serious. That should send him to the Privileges Committee. Oh wait, he is already there!

But who else may have been economical with their answers?

Mr Henry told the committee last week that he eventually received legal aid for his Winebox legal advice under an arrangement with the solicitor-general.

But till he received that legal aid, Mr Henry said his fees were either paid by Mr Peters or through fundraising he did himself.

Whoops.

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Yet another bank account

August 28th, 2008 at 11:30 am by David Farrar

Tumeke’s slush fund diagram is going to have to become a billboard at this rate. Phil Kitchin at the Dom Post reveals the “National Campaign Account” for NZ First and how in 2003 there was a $10,000 cash donation made anonymously.

Cash donations of that magnitude are almost unheard of I would say. So the known funding sources now are:

  1. To the Spencer Trust
  2. To Brian Henry for legal bills
  3. To NZ First directly, breaking large donations into a series of small ones
  4. To the Winston Peters Fighting Fund
  5. To the National Campaign Account, as cash

There are also allegations of some highly unusual practices involving cheques which are never cashed. The list may grow further yet!

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Another secret donation?

August 6th, 2008 at 9:05 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post cites a “well-placed NZ First source” that NZ First has banked at least one cheque bearing the Simunovich name.

And the problem for Winston, if this is true, is:

Mr Peters was asked in 2004 if his party had received donations from Simunovich Fisheries when it was revealed that his adviser, former National MP Ross Meurant, was also working for Simunovich. “I’m saying no,” Mr Peters said.

The Hive recalls previous issues with Smunovich.

We also have the latest response from Helen Clark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs:

WP: Got your tape rolling, Phil?

WP: I told you I’m not talking to a lying gripper

WP: You know what that is? That is a lying wanker who won’t let go. See you.

Helen Clark promised new standards for her Government when she was elected. This is obviously what she meant. This is not Muldoonism. This is far beyond anything Muldoon did.

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Ralston now blogging

August 1st, 2008 at 2:24 pm by David Farrar

Fairfax have out together a good mixture of bloggers at their Business Day site. They have Nick Stride and Nick Smith from the Independent. Shareholder activist Bruce Shepherd, professional protester John Minto, Vernon Small from the Dom Post and the pugnacious Bill Ralston. Most of these blogs are now added to the blogroll.

Bill blogged yesterday on Winston’s latest allegations:

He claims he is being persecuted by a media conspiracy. In the House, referring to the time when I headed news and current affairs, he alleged: “TVNZ have had two private investigators, detectives, sniffing around since they were sued for defamation some years ago, an action which is still alive today.”

This is completely untrue. In my time at TVNZ we never hired any private detectives to investigate him. Winston is fond of calling people ‘liars”. I will simply call him “mistaken”.

Winston has repeated this ridicolous claim several times now. Journalists should call him on it, and to use his own language ask for substantiation? Apart from his fevered imagination, does he had a shred of proof that TVNZ has hired private investigators against him?

If Helen Clark or John Key made an allegation like that, and could not back it up, they would be hounded out of their jobs.

Ralston then turns if TVNZ hiring of Phil Kitchin a few years back:

Winston might want to pause here and think hard about the multiple Qantas Award winning Kitchin’s track record. I hired Phil after a story he wrote broke open the Pipi Trust and exposed then MP Donna Awatere Huata’s fraudulent activity. Donna and her husband went to jail as a result.

Kitchin came to work at TVNZ and broke the Louise Nicholas story (simultaneously published in the Dom Post).  A couple of former police officers and other sexual offenders are still doing time as a result of that investigation.

In fact Kitchin’s investigations in various TV and print stories have put several people behind bars, including the murderer of a small baby, and sparked those things Winston once loved – police investigations and Commissions of Inquiry.

Yes Winston has called for such things in the past. And there is one thing Winston has called for which I think is a good idea. Winston would agree it is also, as it is one of NZ First’s 15 fundamental principles:

An independent anti-corruption commission will be established to enable New Zealanders to have confidence that their institutions are working properly.

I think that is one NZ First policy which is well overdue for implementation!

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Latest from Dom Post

July 31st, 2008 at 2:50 pm by David Farrar

I’ve been in meetings up until now, so only catching up with the latest from the Dom Post.

First we have the undisclosed $20,000 deposit in 1999. If the deposit was all from the same donor it has to be declared. Now possibly it was made up from a number of different donors. The Dom Post doesn’t specify – I assume they may have more than they have published to date.

Then we have the wonderful audio file of Phil Kitchin phoning Winston for comment. The whole clip is 12 seconds long of which six seconds is the phone ringing, three seconds of Kitchin saying who he is and then three seconds of Winston saying

“Phil, I told you I’m not talking to a lying wanker like you. See you.”

and hanging up.

They also have a story on the explanation Peters had walking into the House:

“Let me just say, any moron who knew anything about political parties and election expenses would have known exactly what that was about.”

Vernon Small is unimpressed with the bluster:

There are signs in his behaviour in the past week that he is beginning to believe his own legend, that all he has to do is bluster, attack the messenger and flash his smile to rise above any and all allegations, even those of hypocrisy. He cannot and he has not. …

Of course, the trust fund, and Mr Peters’ refusal to engage with any questions about it, is not an issue of ministerial responsibility but is one of his own credibility with his supporters – but still an area of legitimate interest to the media.

Not accusations, but legitimate questions that deserve answers from an elected representative so the jury in the court of public opinion can come to a verdict.

Labour’s delay of the confidence and supply vote from today until next week is not a coincidence. There are growing concerns in Labour about how their final weeks leading up to an election campaign could be tainted by association with Peters’ tactics.

If the SFO do decide to investigate (and in 2002 they investigated National over similar allegations), then Clark will be under real pressure to suspend Peters. He would react very badly to being suspended and this is why the timing of the confidence vote is increasingly important.

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Winston’s fuller explanation

July 30th, 2008 at 4:05 pm by David Farrar

Winston has just spoken in the general debate. If the allegations were not so serious, it would be comical. He did not address a single issue of substance, but of course just attacked everyone. He basically said:

  • Informed Speaker in May 2005 of allegations now appearing in Dominion Post (I think this is re the scampi issue back then)
  • Said TVNZ has two investigators trying to dig up dirt on him.
  • Talked of how Bill Ralston at TVNZ hired Phil Kitchin, as is this is somehow sinister
  • Alleged that Phil Kitchin has misled Bob Jones in order to get a story
  • Said that he sacked Rex W in 1996 and Rex not credible as he chats to teenage girls online
  • Said that he was told at his mother’s funeral that there is a “pot of money” on offer for anyone who can dig up dirt on him
  • Referred to the media as brainless meerkats
  • Said that when he refuses to answer a stupid question, that is not a denial!

Remember how he said last week he would address the conflicts between what Bob Jones (and Professor Wright) said and what he has said. He hasn’t even attempted to do this.If this was meant to be a fuller explanation, I would hate to see a less full explanation.

In related news, Rodney Hide has laid a complaint with the Serious Fraud Office. It will be interesting to see if they decide to investigate. Considering they invesigated a similiar allegation against National in 2002, I can’t see how they can credibly not invesigate. That is not to say they will necessairly find illegal behaviour. Unless one actually knows what the Spencer Trust spends its money on, you can’t conclude on issues of legality.

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Another secret donation

July 24th, 2008 at 6:55 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin in the Dominion Post reveals another secret donation to NZ First – $25,000 from SIr Robert Jones in 2005 and $50,000 in 1993.

Neither of these donations has ever been declared.

The 2005 one went into The Spencer Trust, which is administed by Wayne Peters – Winston’s brother.

Now there are three issues here for NZ First – their brand, their hypocrisy and legal issues.

Brand

NZ First has portrayed itself as the party of the underdog fighting wealthy interests. But in the last few days we have learnt that NZ First and/or its leader has received donations from a foreign resident billionaire, a foreign resident family worth around $180 million and a local millionaire worth $400 million or so.

NZ First has purported to be a party funded by lots of $20 and $50 donations but seems to have more mega rich donors than anyone thought. What is the average NZ First supporter or MP thinking?

Hypocrisy

As detailed in this Dom Post story, Peters has railed against secret donations, against the use of trusts funds to collect donations etc.

It is becoming clear that NZ First has been engaging in the exact behaviour it has so criticised over the years. In fact its behaviour has been less transparent it seems than those it criticised.

Legal

Now it is (or was) legal for someone to donate to a trust and for the trust to then donate to a party. However the party has to declare the donation from the trust, and NZ First has never ever disclosed a single donation from the Spencer Trust. People go on about the Waitemata Trust – but at least people know that exists and how much it donates to National. Until today The Spencer Trust was unknown to almost everyone (I actually first heard about it and a link to NZ First last year), so this is a level of transparency which is rock bottom.

Now accounts are audited, so how come there are no donations recorded from the Spencer Trust to NZ First? Well according to the Kitchin article, it simply just pays bills on behalf of NZ First.

Sound a familiar method of operation? And all impossible for an auditor to detect.

However I suspect the legal position is that paying a bill on behalf of a party counts as an donation to the party, and should have been declared.

The Electoral Commission needs to decide if it has a role here. The time limit for prosecutions over the 2005 election return has passed, but the 2007 return might now be questioned if this behaviour is not a one off. If the allegations are correct and the Spencer Trust is paying bills on behalf of the party, then that is an issue to be investigated.

Finally in the interest of balance, we quote the denials given to the Dominion Post:

Mr Peters, who is in Singapore, would not comment yesterday. Responding later to written questions about Sir Robert’s donation going to the Spencer Trust, he would say only that the information was “not factual”.

Is he saying Sir Robert is mistaken?

Early this week The Dominion Post asked a spokesman for Mr Peters if a trust run by his brother had sometimes paid NZ First bills.

Through the spokesman, Mr Peters said: “That is a lie.”

And that is a clear cuit denial. So what does Sir Robert say:

When contacted yesterday, Sir Robert said he was making his own inquiries with NZ First officials and would not comment further at this stage.

Sir Robert is a straight shooter. I look forward to hearing his comments once he has made his inquiries.

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$150,000 from the Velas to NZ First

July 22nd, 2008 at 8:14 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin’s investigative prowess is at work, as he reveals up to $150,000 of donations to NZ First from the Vela family to NZ First or Winston Peters.

A special investigation by The Dominion Post can reveal that a series of donations from accounts linked to the Vela family – heavyweight operators in the racing and fishing industries – and totalling at least $150,000 were made to the party.

But NZ First sources say nothing like that much Vela money was deposited in the party’s bank account.

Well they seem to have so many. Their main account. Then the secret one that not even Party President Dail Jones knew about. And then the other secret one for Winston’s legal expenses.

The Vela family has an estimated wealth of $180 million, according to the National Business Review’s 2007 rich list.

The cheques from Vela family fishing and thoroughbred companies were written out to NZ First from around the year 1999 to 2003.

Hmmn isn’t Winston Minister of Racing? And hasn’t he delivered a massive amount of money to the industry? And he has been very involved in fisheries issues also as an MP.

The Vela donations were made in accordance with electoral laws, which allow sums of less than $10,000 to be donated anonymously.

Yes and no. If over a calendar year they exceeded $10,000 from the same source then they must be disclosed.

It is understood most of the cheques were collected by Ross Meurant when he worked for NZ First as an adviser to Mr Peters.

Mr Meurant, a former National MP, was at that time also a fellow director and shareholder of Digital Global Maps Ltd with Philip Vela, a senior family figure.

It is understood Mr Meurant sometimes worked out of Vela’s offices at Te Rapa, Hamilton, while advising Mr Peters.

Meurant was actually employed by The Parliamentary Service, not NZ First. It is an usual situation to have a parliamentary employee collecting money for a party. It is also unusual to ave a barrister touting for money to pay his own legal bills!

The cheques were understood to be for amounts of $10,000 or less – which meant they did not need to be declared, unless the party knew it was receiving more than $10,000 from the same company or person in a calendar year.

Yes.

The Dominion Post understands the cheques were written out to NZ First from Vela bank accounts including PJ Vela, PM Vela, Vela Fishing, Vela Quota Number 1 and Number 2 accounts and Pencarrow Stud.

Now if these were all seperate legal entities – ie seperate companies and people, then they avoid disclosure. But if they are just seperate bank accounts for the same entity, then you have to add them together.

The ones I would be interested in are Vela Quota Number 1 and Number 2. Are they seperate companies or seperate bank accounts for the same company?

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Winston’s mystery staffer

July 5th, 2008 at 10:35 am by David Farrar

Do you remember how NZ First said the illegal election advertisements in Tauranga were put up by an over-enthusiastic supporter? Well it seems the property they were put up on, is one of Winston’s closest friends and a parliamentary staffer of his.

Phil Kitchin investigates:

A NZ First staffer likely to face police scrutiny in a test of new electoral laws has received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for a job many in his party know almost nothing about.

Tommy Gear, a close friend of party leader Winston Peters, is expected to be questioned by police following an alleged breach of the Electoral Finance Act.

The case is the first under the controversial new law governing political party advertising to have been referred to police by the Electoral Commission.

Mr Gear is likely to be questioned about NZ First banners that were strung from the remains of his property in Maxwells Rd, Tauranga, in April.

Mr Gear has been employed by the Parliamentary Service, which administers Parliament, from as early as 1998.

I’ve never heard of Mr Gear before I have to say.

He has occasionally used his black Mercedes to chauffeur Mr Peters and carry his bags – but what else Mr Gear has done for a salary in some years of up to $50,000 is a mystery to many party officials.

Mr Peters often stayed with Mr Gear and his wife at their former million-dollar Maxwells Rd property. Mr Gear occasionally stays with Mr Peters in Wellington.

Sources say many NZ First officials have little or no idea of what Mr Gear has done for a salary that has fluctuated between $19,000 and $50,000. Mr Gear was seen in Parliament only a few times a year, a source said.

“He’s a mystery man.”

Parties are free to hire whomever they want from their parliamentary funding, but normally they are listed in the parliamentary directory.

The National Party complained to the Electoral Commission about the NZ First banners because they had no promoter’s name or address.

One banner said: “Keeping them honest.”

When NZ First failed to respond to a “please explain” from the Electoral Commission police were asked to investigate.

A breach of the Electoral Finance Act, a law NZ First strongly supported, can incur a fine of up to $40,000.

Mr Peters said this week that the banners were the work of an “over-enthusiastic supporter”. NZ First would cooperate with the police inquiry even though the party was “not certain” the law had been breached.

If the over-enthusiastic supporter is on the NZ First parliamentary payroll, that puts a very different light on it.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Peters would not answer repeated questions about whether Mr Gear worked for NZ First.

“Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you,” Mr Peters said before hanging up.

Phil Kitchin has been threatened with lawsuits more often that most people have had hot dinners I suspect, so I doubt he was worried by this threat.

In Mr Gear’s early years working for Mr Peters, his job was to maintain relationships with local authority leaders and to deputise for Mr Peters when he was away from his electorate.

But former Tauranga mayor Noel Pope said he never met or spoke to Mr Gear about briefings. Mr Pope met Mr Peters each month. “Tom is a mate of [Mr Peters] … He is his minder.”

Current mayor Stuart Crosby said he had only ever seen Mr Gear acting as a driver for Mr Peters.

In February 2000 Mr Gear was fined $500 after being clocked at 168kmh driving Mr Peters to Auckland airport.

How intriguing.

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Qantas Awards

May 10th, 2008 at 8:44 am by David Farrar

The lovely folks at the Herald on Sunday invited me to join them at their table for the Qantas Awards in Auckland last night (as I have done a couple of pieces for them), and it was definitely the place to be as they went on to win not just Best Weekly Newspaper but the coveted Best Newspaper.

Earlier in the night briefly popped into some blogger drinks and caught up with some of the old regulars, and met a few new people which was fun. Also failed to recognise Phil U due to his new look :-)

Back to the Qantas, and as I said it was a great night for the Herald on Sunday. On top of the two main newspaper awards, they also won Best General Columnist and Best All Round Columnist (Paul Holmes) and Best Portrait or Object Portfolio Photographer (Janna Dixon).

The Herald on Sunday is less than four years old, and when you start with no subscribers, it is swim or sink, and I think it shows the power of hunger and competition that such a new newspaper has done so well. The Sunday newspapers are almost the only ones which still have direct competition in the print media.

Most people didn’t give speeches, but Paul Holmes gave a hilarious speech which Bill Ralston (one of the MCs along with Mary Lambie) tried to cut short. Paul just retorted “Knock it off Bill or I’ll fucking thump you” which had the desired effect. Ralston and Lambie were both very good as MCs, with Ralston making many jokes at the expense of his former bosses at TVNZ.

The winner of the most significant individual award – the Qantas Fellow to Wolfson College in Cambridge went to Phil Kitchin of the Dominion Post which was indisputably deserved. Kitchin and his editor Tim Pankhurst also got an Outstanding Achievement award for the Louise Nicholas story. Few stories have ever had such an impact on a country, and as Pankhurst pointed out it was their most defamatory story ever – except for the defence of truth – so deciding to run it was pretty ballsy.

Peter Griffin picked up Best Information & Comms Technology Feature Writer and Carroll du Chateau, Best Government, Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Feature Writer. The Herald also had a very good night winning the Best Daily Newspaper with over 25,000 circulation. I understand their major stories on the Electoral Finance Act were submitted as their portfolio.

The best IT Columnist was Jillian Allison-Aitken from the Southland Times. I have to confess I have not read her stuff,so will have to look out for it in future. Colin Espiner was Best Politics Columnist.

Oh yes the best newspaper section went to the ODT for their world focus section. A few people joked they didn’t know the ODT had a world focus section – I have to admit when I lived in Dunedin my memories were that the Oamaru fair day would received twice as much space as the Berlin Wall coming down :-) Obviously things have improved!

The Listener won Best Newsstand Magazine which editor Pamela Stirling appreciated greatly as vindication for her decisions to make changes to The Listener. We know this, because she said so in her acceptance speech!

In the online categories the Herald won best news website, NBR won best single report on a news website and the globally popular Read Write Web won Best Blog. Congrats to No Right Turn for being a finalist.

As I mentioned the Herald on Sunday won Best Newspaper and Best Weekly Newspaper, and NZ Herald Best Large Daily. The Manawatu Standard won Best Small Daily, the Aucklander (West) Best Community Newspaper, and the NZ Herald Best Front Page (for their Democracy Under Attack  story)

The full awards list is here.

Was a very enjoyable night, meeting new people and catching up with others. Having a quiet recovery day today and then off to a play in Auckland tonight.

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