NZ First’s 2005 donations return

TV3 last night interviewed one of the Trustees of the . They report:

3 News has been given an extract of the Spencer Trust’s financial records which show a $25,000 donation made by Sir Robert Jones did go to New Zealand first. …

Grant Currie is one of three trustees of the Spencer Trust.

“The only purpose of the trust was to receive donations from supporters of NZ Trust and to pass them to New Zealand First,” explains Currie.

The Trust was formed in August 2005 – its intention was to channel money from donors to New Zealand First.

The statement shows that money along with another anonymous $25,000 donation was paid to New Zealand First less than a month later, on the 7th of September.

“If the allegation is that Mr Jones’ donation didn’t go where he intended it to then it completely refutes that allegation,” says Currie.

Mr Currie is right that that particular allegation does appear to be refuted, if bank records back up their books.

However the problem for NZ First is that these documents prove $50,000 was donated to NZ First on 7 September 2005 from the Spencer Trust. And in all probability, much more than that on other occassions.

And according to the Electoral Commission, NZ First made a nil donation return in 2005.

One the face of it, this is impossible to reconcile, and prima facie the NZ First donations return was false – a very serious matter. The law in force at the time was the Electoral Act 1993. S214G(4) says:

Every secretary of a political party registered under Part 4 who forwards to the under subsection (1)(a) a return that is false in any material particular—

(a) is, if the secretary forwards the return knowing that the return is false in any material particular, guilty of a corrupt practice and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year or to a fine not exceeding $20,000, or to both; and

(b) is, in any other case, guilty of an illegal practice and is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding $20,000, unless the secretary proves—

(i) that he or she had no intention to mis-state or conceal the facts; and

(ii) that he or she took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure that the information in the return was accurate.

So the NZ First Party Secretary may have commited a corrupt practice or an illegal practice. They may argue of course that the money from the Spencer Trust went into a special account controlled by, umm, say the Leader, and they knew nothing about it. This could explain why the NZF Party President says he has never heard of the Spencer Trust – something unlikely if it went into their main bank account.

Now even though the law appears prima facie to have been broken, s226 means they can not be prosecuted for it:

A prosecution against any person for a corrupt practice or an illegal practice shall be commenced within 6 months after the offence was committed

But this is not an issue just of will someone go to jail. Winston Peters needs to explain to the “court of public opinion”. The media needs to demand from NZ First how they can reconcile their nil 2005 donation return with the $50,000 donation from the Spencer Trust.

Now remember Helen Clark and Winston Peters campaigned on financial transparency. Regardless of the findings, does the Prime Minister have no problems with a political party that appears to have filed a false donations return, or multiple false donation returns? How does she reconcile this with her stance on wanting greater electoral funding transparency?

It will be very interesting if the SFO investigation reveals exactly what bank account the $50,000 was paid into. Is it one known to and controlled by the party? Unless it is, then the money may still be found not to have gone to the intended recepient. If it did go into an account controlled by the party, then the donations return is false – you can not have it both ways.

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