The NBR reports:

The Serious Fraud Office served the notice on NBR yesterday, demanding documents and audio tapes relating to the paper’s investigation of South Canterbury Finance’s dealings over Auckland’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. The deadline for delivery was 9am today.

The Serious Fraud Act Section 5 notice requires NBR editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson to hand over all written and audio notes relating to Mr Nippert’s investigation of the Hyatt Regency, specifically the NBR exclusive story of how one-time meatworker Peter Symes came to own the hotel.

The NBR story by Nippert may be what led the SFO to focus on SCF. It was an excellent story about how the Hyatt in Auckland was officially owned by a retried freezing worker.

The SFO has incredible powers to demand documents. They were given them to use against the bad guys doing the fraud, not against the good guys who helped expose the alleged fraud.

A polite request to NBR for information would be more productive than a section 5 notice.

So far NBR has decided to risk adverse legal consequences:

The National Business Review is in a standoff with the Serious Fraud Office after the SFO this morning refused an invitation by NBR publisher Barry Colman to attend a meeting with the paper.

The SFO instead warned that NBR had been in breach of its statutory obligations under the Serious Fraud Office Act since 9 am today.

The SFO has demanded editorial files relating to NBR’s investigation into the collapse of the South Canterbury Finance group of companies and yesterday threatened its journalists with jail and fines for non-coperation.

The NBR called for the meeting to seek reassurances that its co-operation with the SFO would not lead to further fishing trips for information that could compromise the paper’s confidential sources.

It does look like the info demanded will eventually be provided:

The SFO’s request related to already published material that the paper has no objection to supplying as no confidential sources were violated.

But NBR is seeking an assurance from the Serious Fraud Office that it will not invoke its draconian powers of document seizure in return for NBR’s co-operation into the SFO’s investigations in the South Canterbury Finance collapse.

Mr Colman said today the initial information sought by the SFO had already been published and its release would not violate the confidentiality of any NBR sources.

So NBR are saying yeah we can give you that info but we don’t want to be seen to assenting to further info which will compromise sources.

Mr Colman said today the SFO’s blatant intimidation was appalling and counterproductive.

“We are not the enemies of the SFO. We want the bad guys investigated as well,” he said.

“However, no news service is going to be able to get crucial information from its sources or whistleblowers if they face public exposure. We have taken legal advice and been told the act is so draconian that it is impossible for us to refuse to co-operate without risking serious penalty.

“We have decided to hand over the material they are asking for today because it doesn’t compromise any of the sources of Matt Nippert, the reporter who carried out the investigation.

Good on NBR for not rolling over without protest. If Barry does end up in jail, I’ll smuggle in an iPad to him!

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