NZ First Foundation scandal: Charged pair alleged to have deposited $740,000

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 8 Oct 2020, 2:09PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

NZ First Foundation scandal: Charged pair alleged to have deposited $740,000

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 8 Oct 2020, 2:09PM

Two people facing charges after a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation have been accused of depositing more than $740,000 into foundation accounts.

In February, the Electoral Commission said it believed the foundation "has received donations which should have been treated as party donations for the New Zealand First Party". The matter was referred to police, and then the SFO.

Two people were charged on September 23 with obtaining by deception.

Charging documents obtained by the Herald today allege the duo deposited $746,881 into two bank accounts, including an account belonging to the New Zealand First Foundation between September 30, 2015 and February 14 of this year.

The documents claim the money was deposited into the accounts with "intent to deceive the donors of the monies, the party secretary of the New Zealand First Party and/or the Electoral Commission".

"The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem, whereby party donations for the party were paid into the bank accounts of [suppressed] and the New Zealand First Foundation and not notified to the party secretary, or declared by the party secretary to the Electoral Commission," the documents allege.

"Those undeclared funds thereby became available to [suppressed]/New Zealand First Foundation to use as the defendants saw fit, and were used to pay expenses of the party and to develop a fundraising database for the benefit of the party and [suppressed]."

The pair appeared in court today where Robert Stewart, acting on behalf of Herald publisher NZME, Stuff and RNZ, was set to challenge the suppression orders around the case.

Neither of the defendants was a minister, a sitting MP or a party candidate.

The two people charged were granted name suppression until they appeared in court again on October 29 but the media applied to challenge the order on the grounds of public interest given the election on October 17.

New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters questioned the timing of the SFO's decision to lay charges, which came a day before overseas voting started and a few days before advanced voting began.

The distinction that the party was "entirely separate" from the foundation would be lost on some, he said.

The foundation's activities came under scrutiny this year over whether it had loaned or provided money to the party for purposes that benefit the party and its MPs, and if so, whether those had been properly declared.

The party's returns showed that the foundation was listed as having made a loan of $73,000 to NZ First for 2017, $76,622 for 2018 and $44,923 for 2019.

RNZ reported that the foundation collected donations of more than $500,000 from April 2017 to March 2019.

During that period, the foundation reportedly spent more than $425,000 on campaign advertising expenses, political consultants' fees, renting and setting up a campaign HQ in Wellington, and running the party's website.

This followed the resignation of party president Lester Gray last year after he refused to sign the party's 2019 financial documents.

"This type of operation does not align with my moral and business practice values, and I am therefore not able to support the party any longer," Gray told Stuff at the time.

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