Crown calls NZ First Foundation act ‘a sham’ as it closes donations case

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The Crown has called the New Zealand First Foundation’s founding document a “sham”, as it closes its case against two men accused of mishandling political donations.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The pair have been on trial in Auckland High Court for two weeks, accused of obtaining nearly $750,000 through deception.

They deny deceiving the New Zealand First Party by collecting and spending money which the Crown says should have been treated as reportable donations.

During the trial, the court heard that the New Zealand First party had money problems about ten years ago.

Evidence presented in court shows that insiders feared it had no consistent flow of funding and was missing bill payments, sometimes at Winston Peters’ expense.

It is in this context that the Crown said two men – who continue to face interim name deletion, set up the New Zealand First Foundation.

John Dixon QC said they raised and spent the money donated to the foundation, keeping it secret from the party; its leader and board of directors.

“They didn’t know how the foundation was funded, how much money they had or what they were spending it on. There were no updates from the board on the activity of the foundation; they were kept in ignorance.”

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Dixon QC said the defendant actively told people, including former New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell who had raised funds for the party, that the foundation and the party were the same thing.

“He said it was designed and put in place to help New Zealand first, to be part of New Zealand first and to help New Zealand first get into Parliament in the next few years. elections.

“And Mr. Mitchell raised money on that basis; that it was all one. [One of the defendants] must have figured it out.”

The money was used to pay for a software system and the cost of renting an office space on Lambton Quay which carried the sign ‘New Zealand First Party Headquarters’.

It also paid boxer Joseph Parker to speak at a party conference and produced a video of party leader Winston Peters touring the country during the 2020 election campaign.

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The testimony of many donors, who gave individual sums totaling nearly $750,000, was that they gave the money believing it would go to the party or to Winston Peters.

New Zealand's first leader Winston Peters visits Rangiora in Canterbury for his election campaign on September 10, 2020.

File photo: New Zealand’s first leader Winston Peters visits Rangiora in Canterbury for his election campaign on September 10, 2020.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Dixon QC said an early email from one of the defendants talking about “funds from a leader” and bank transfers, including one bearing the reference “Winston”, showed the defendant must have known that what he was doing was illegal.

“The fact that they spent the money, contrary to the terms of the trust deed, suggests that it was really just a sham. The simple fact is that it was all unnecessary.

“If all of this was clear and understood by the defendants, all of this could have been achieved in a very different way.”

The defendants, who still benefit from an interim name deletion despite having been in court since September 20202, deny both charges of obtaining by deception.

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The defense argued that the party had not been deceived, that no wrongdoing had taken place and that party leader Winston Peters was “significantly” missing from the list of Crown witnesses.

Peters’ name came up time and time again during the trial, which heard from donors liking him and he enjoyed a sausage sizzle fundraiser.

John Dixon QC said any suggestion he was involved in the alleged mishandling of political donations was both unsubstantiated and contradicted by the defendants’ own evidence.

“If Mr Peters had control, there would be evidence that the defendants would have consulted him before spending the money, but they didn’t; they just went ahead and spent it. .”

“Any argument that defendants believed or could have believed that the party knew and approved of the conduct is unsupported by any evidence and is, with respect, directly contradicted by defendants’ numerous statements.”

The defense will present its closing arguments on Monday, June 27, after which Judge Jagose is likely to reserve his decision.

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