SFO lays two charges in NZ First Foundation case

Stuff reports:

The Serious Fraud Office has laid charges against two people over the NZ First Foundation donations scandal, but Winston Peters says his party has been “exonerated”.

Only Winston could claim having charges laid is an exoneration. As usual, he is talking nonsense.

The two people were charged with “obtaining by deception” on September 23 in the electoral funding case, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said in a statement on Tuesday.

The maximum penalty for this is seven years imprisonment.

The SFO would not name those charged, but said neither were Cabinet ministers, sitting MPs, candidates or staff member in the upcoming election, or current members of the NZ First party.

I would be willing to bet that both those charged have been members of NZ First for say at least 25 years or so, and only resigned their memberships a few days ago.

NZ First leader Peters attacked the SFO when responding to the charges, saying it had “exonerated the NZ First party of any electoral law breaches”.

“It’s a relief after months of this cloud hanging over the party that we have been fully cleared,” he said.

LOL. Fully cleared.

The electoral law breaches were relatively minor compared to the fraud charges laid. Having more serious charges laid is not exoneration.

Peters said he had taken the SFO to court over the statement it intended to make public about the charges it laid.

So Winston tried to deny the public the right to know charges had been laid.

Why would Winston have gone to court, if it is all an exoneration!

“The timing of its decision to lay charges against the foundation constitutes a James Comey-level error of judgment,” Peter said, referring to the decision by then US FBI-director James Comey to reopen an investigation into Hilary Clinton’s emails shortly before the 2016 US presidential election.

James Comey decided not to charge Hillary Clinton. Here the Serious Fraud Office (which has a near 100% conviction rate) has decided to lay charges.

An SFO spokesman said NZ First brought proceedings against the office to stop it issuing a media release, on September 23.

The court ruled in favour of the SFO, the spokesman said, and released a statement on Tuesday when the timeframe for appealing the decision lapsed.

Again why did Winston try to prevent the SFO from informing the public charges had been laid?

Peters said he had now instructed lawyers to take the SFO to court and seek a declaration it had abused its statutory powers, he said.

Presumably the same lawyers who already lost to the SFO?

Peters has said the SFO would not find any wrongdoing, and NZ First was acting as other political parties do.

And again Peters was wrong. The SFO did find wrongdoing and has laid charges.

He routinely distanced himself from the foundation, saying he had “ensured it was legal but beyond that was not involved.

Yes Winston had nothing to do with it, except:

  • His closest friend and confidant was a trustee
  • Bills sent to Winston’s office were paid by the Foundation
  • One of his MPs collected money for the Foundation

“The foundation is an entirely separate entity from the NZ First party, but that distinction will be lost on some and sadly ignored on purpose by others,” Peters said on Tuesday.

The Electoral Commissions’ view is that it was not separate. Even if it is separate that is different to independent. It was created by the Party which appointed the trustees. Someone in the party ordered money collected for the party to be paid into the Foundation and also ordered party expenses to be paid from the Foundation.

The two people charged of course have the legal presumption of innocence unless guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt. That will be resolved at trial.

The issue here is that NZ First had established a Foundation that collected and spent money on behalf of NZ First but whose activities were hidden from the Party President who resigned over the issue.

UPDATE: The Court Ruling is here. Key aspects:

  • Winston wanted the SFO decision hidden until after a government had been formed after the election
  • The Judge said “I do not consider NZ First’s case for judicial review is particularly strong”
  • The Judge concluded “I consider there is a significant public interest in the New Zealand voting public being informed during an election campaign about criminal charges of serious fraud against people or organisations related to political parties
  • NZ First applied for an inunction 33 minutes after receiving a copy of the press release

Also of interest is that one of the defendants managed to get a District Court Judge to grant an interim suppression order, but the High Court overturned that. Also NZ First tried to appeal to the Court of Appeal, but leave was only granted for them to do so if done by today. NZ First presumably realised they’d lose in the Court of Appeal and only gain a few extra days.

. They really were desperate to keep us all in the dark.

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