Two individuals have been charged by the Serious Fraud Office, but neither is an MP.
What’s the skinny?
The Serious Fraud Office announced in a 5pm statement that two people have been charged with “obtaining by deception” following its inquiry into the New Zealand First Foundation and donations and loans provided to the New Zealand First Party. And Winston Peters launched an all guns blazing counter-attack.
The SFO statement reads:
The SFO has filed a charge of “Obtaining by Deception” against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.
The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First Party.
The SFO has no further comment.
Who are these two people?
We don’t know. Their names are suppressed. But both are linked to the New Zealand First Foundation and neither is an MP.
How has Winston Peters responded?
He announced at a 5pm press conference, synchronous with the SFO statement, both that he had been exonerated and that he would be countersuing. He issued a warning against “journalists attempting to smear me” and reiterated his insistence that the party is “completely separate from the foundation”, even if “that distinction will be lost on some”.
“We have been fully cleared, unlikely the recent National Party donations scandal,” he told reporters. The timing of the decision, he added, amounted to a “James Comey level error of judgement”.
What’s the counter-suit?
The NZ First Party had instructed its lawyers to initiate proceedings in the High Court against the SFO, said Peters. “It is quite shocking for any who believe in fair elections that the SFO, one day from overseas voting and four days from advance voting beginning, would interpose itself into the general election in this poorly conceived fashion.”
He added: “In my opinion, the SFO has acted unreasonably and without justification both in the way in which the investigation has been conducted and in public announcements the SFO has chosen to make about the investigation in breach of the Serious Fraud Office’s own written policy of not commenting on investigations until the first appearance of any accused facing charges. As a result, the NZ First Party has instructed its lawyers to issue proceedings in the High Court against the Serious Fraud Office seeking declarations that the Serious Fraud Office has amounted to an abuse of its statutory powers and has been unreasonable.”
What’s with the James Comey thing?