Having now seen the evidence from the SFO, it is no surprise that the Prime Minister is furious that they told the truth to the Privileges Committee. Clark is still questioning the judgement of the SFO Director, and complaining he did not consult Crown Law.
Apart from the fact there is no requirement he do so, I say thank God he didn’t. Crown Law would have informed the Attorney-General who was moonlighting as Co Chief Defence Counsel for Winston Peters at the Privileges Committee.
Look at who the Director did consult:
- The Clerk of the House of Representatives
- The Auditor-General (who is empowered to investigate matters relating to the Register of Interests)
- A QC
There really is no question that the Director acted properly. Those suggesting he did not, are trying to divert attention from the devastating evidence he provided. You see we learnt that the Spencer Trust did not just deliver money to NZ First, but to Winston Peters personally by paying off a $40,000 debt of his.
ACT tried to get the Privileges Committee to further investigate the Spencer Trust after the SFO investigation. And they are right that the issue of secret donations through the Spencer Trust to pay off a $40,000 debt of Peters is of massive concern.
The reason the PM is so furious is because the SFO evidence directly calls into question the integrity of decision making in her Government.
It is hard to not conclude that the ultimate donor of the $40,000 was the Vela Family. The descriptions in the SFO report strongly suggest that. And the Vela Family make much of their money from horse racing.
Now I am not suggesting the Velas had bad motives with their donations. I support their right to donate to parties they support. But there is a massive difference between a donation to a party and a donation or gift to an MP personally. The former is absolutely common. The latter is unheard of in NZ at the level of $40,000.
Winston Peters got the Government to give a lot of money to the racing industry. He had to persaude Clark and Cullen to ignore Treasury advice and go along with his plans for the Giovernment to provide prize money for some horse races.
Now if he was the personal beneficiary of a $40,000 donation (through paying his debt) from racing industry figures, then that absolutely 100% had to be disclosed. In fact the Prime Minister has to approve retention of any gift over $500 this is such a serious issue for Ministers.
Consider how scandalous this would be in a different portfolio. Let us say Winston was Minister of Health and he persuaded Cabinet to fund a new drug against the advice of Pharmac. And then it turned out the drug company that manufactures that drug had given him $40,000. You start to get the idea of how serious it is.
The PM needs to urgently find out whether that $40,000 was in fact donated by the Velas. The secrecy of donations through trusts (a practice I sumitted to Parliament should end incidentially) has only ever applied for donations to political parties. There can be no secrecy for donations to Ministers of the Crown.