A Little trouble

The Herald reports:

Labour leader Andrew Little upped his offer from $26,000 to $100,000 in a last-minute bid to settle the defamation claim against him by hoteliers Earl and Lani Hagaman but Mrs Hagaman rejected it as too little and too late.

Little’s offer was revealed in Mrs Hagaman’s evidence at the High Court in Wellington, during which she read out letters between lawyers for the two.

The Hagamans are now seeking more than $2 million in damages from Little over comments he made last year about a $100,000 donation from the Hagamans to the National Party in 2014 and a contract later awarded to their hotel chain – Scenic Hotel – to manage the Matavai resort in Niue.

At the time, the Hagamans gave Little a deadline to apologise and retract his comments, but he refused. Mrs Hagaman said at that point, all the Hagamans wanted was an apology and “minimal” costs: “just a couple of legal letters.”

Why on Earth didn’t he just apologise at the time? Who was advising him?

Mrs Hagaman said in February this year, Little offered the wording of an apology and $26,000.

In response the Hagamans said although they “have no wish to destroy Mr Little by rendering him insolvent,” a more realistic offer was needed.

His return offer of $100,000 was also rejected – Mrs Hagaman said her costs by then were already $215,000 and the wording of the apology was inadequate because it did not state there was no link between the donation and the hotel’s business interest in Niue.

If your offer a year later doesn’t even come close to the costs of the other party, it is possibly not a big surprise they say no.

Mr Hagaman was now very ill and had been given only weeks to live and Mrs Hagaman said she decided to go ahead with the defamation suit to clear his name before he died.

“We are very proud of what we do. We are very proud people. His name is very important to him and it’s incredibly important that he does die with dignity – and for our children.”

She said it was offensive and “distasteful” to suggest the Hagamans would expect something in return for the donation – they were regular donors to various charities and community groups, including $1 million for the Christchurch Cathedral from Mr Hagaman: “a true atheist”.

Very generous.

The Hagamans are suing over six separate statements Little made, one in a press release and the rest in media interviews after that. In those, Little had questioned whether there was a link between the donation and the Matavai contract which was awarded to Scenic Hotel soon afterwards, as well as a $7.5 million Government aid fund to upgrade the resort at a later date.

The comments the Hagamans claim amount to defamation include phrases such as: “it looks murky from the outside, it looks shady,” “stink to high heaven,” “there’s just something about this whole deal that really stinks” and reference to National Party’s “dodgy deals” such as SkyCity and the agrihub in Saudi Arabia.

Mrs Hagaman said the overall insinuation was that the Hagamans had done something corrupt and she felt they were being targeted.

The court will decide if the statements were defamatory or fair game. But as I have said before, Little would have been fine if he had merely called for an investigation. It is his angry language of stinking to high heaven etc which has made him vulnerable.

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