SFO investigation into NZ First Foundation underway

Newstalk ZB / Jason Walls, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Feb 2020, 11:45AM
Photo / Mark Mitchell

SFO investigation into NZ First Foundation underway

Newstalk ZB / Jason Walls, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Feb 2020, 11:45AM

The Serious Fraud Office has commenced an investigation in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation, a spokesman has confirmed.

This comes after the police last week referred the matter to the SFO – it took the office just eight days to decide an investigation was warranted.

Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper told Canterbury Mornings with Chris Lynch there is a certain naivety around political donations.

"People are being naive if they think the people are donating to political parties for the good of their health, they do it  for the good of their company's health usually."

Last week, NZ First Leader Winston Peters was adamant that the SFO wouldn't find any wrongdoing on behalf of him, or his party.

"I was not involved in any way, shape or form," he told media last week.

This comes after questions were raised last year about how the Foundation handled donations.

The Electoral Commission said at the time it was looking into the matter.

On Monday last week, it handed the probe over to the police – the police said it would be handing it over to the SFO.

Last week Peters said he was pleased that the matter had been deferred to the police, then to the SFO.

But he said NZ First was going to wait and co-operate with the SFO to provide all the information.

He said he was not subject to any investigation nor was New Zealand First – "so there is the end of it."

He said the SFO would not find any evidence of wrongdoing because no such evidence exists – "we have a legal opinion to back up what we have said".

Late last year, Stuff reported that the NZ First Foundation appeared to have hidden political donations worth almost half a million dollars between April 2017 and March 2019.

Many of these apparent donations to the foundation do not appear on the party's electoral returns.

The issue was referred to the Electoral Commission, then to police, then to the SFO who today decided to investigate.

Recently, RNZ have been reporting specific details about the Foundation's books. The broadcaster has been reporting who some of the donors are, and how much has been donated – much of it just under the $15,000 anonymity threshold .

This is not the first time New Zealand First has been the subject of an SFO investigation.

In 2008, NZ First was investigated by the office because of similar issues with donations to the party.

Back then, Peters – then Minister of Foreign Affairs – stood aside as the SFO investigated issues to do with party donations.

The SFO said at the time it had no basis for fraud charges to be laid, but questions remained about possible breaches of electoral law over the non-disclosure of donations.

"When it was all over," he said, "Winston Peters was utterly exonerated – those are the facts."

He said that would, indeed, again be the outcome of any potential SFO probe today.