The SFO’s wording for the joint deception charges says: “By deception or without claim of right directly or indirectly obtained for the National Party possession of, or control over, any property, namely a $100,050 [for the 2018 charge] donation made to the National Party between June 1, 2018 and June 8, 2018 (“the 2018 donation”) in circumstances where the identity of the donor was not disclosed in the National Party’s Annual Return of Party Donations.”
The SFO describes the offending over the donations in these words: “The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem whereby the … donation was split into sums of money less than $15,000 and transferred into bank accounts of eight different people before being paid to, and retained by, the National Party.”
I have said previously that I suspected this may have happened once charges were laid. It is clearly illegal. We actually have a comprehensive law which specifically forbids doing this to avoid disclosure. It is good those involved have been charged.
The political party generally has no way of knowing the ultimate source of a donation, hence the law requires the person making (or transmitting) the donation to identify anyone who has contributed to it. The SFO alleges this did not happen in this case.
For the fourth person’s charge of misleading the SFO, the charging document says: “In the course of complying with a requirement … of the Serious Fraud Act 1990 supplied information knowing it was false or misleading in a material particular.”
The SFO says of that charge that this defendant told investigators a $100,000 sum transferred to their account was a deposit for a building on another person’s property – when the money had been intended as a donation to the National Party. Further, in 2019 the defendant created, signed and back-dated a contract to that end, when no real contract for that work existed. The office alleges the made-up contract copied wording from an unrelated contract.
That sounds very interesting. The offence has a maximum penalty of $15,000 and/or one year imprisonment. Lying to the SFO is a very bad idea.
The SFO appears to have charged the four defendants for deception under the Crimes Act, rather than just the Electoral Act. That has a maximum imprisonment of three years jail as opposed to merely a $40,000 fine under the Electoral Act.
So the SFO is really throwing the book at this, which is great. For far too many years electoral law breaches have not been prosecuted. These prosecutions may serve as a valuable deterrent.
This suggests the investigation into NZ First and its Foundation will be very robust also. Good.