NZ First to review donations policy, pressure mounts on PM

NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo: Getty Images
NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo: Getty Images
The New Zealand First Party "will be reviewing its arrangements for party donations", the party's leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has announced, as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to stand him down as a minister.

The Electoral Commission today referred its findings from an investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation to the police, which referred the matter immediately to the Serious Fraud Office.

Peters stood aside as Minister of Foreign Affairs in August 2008 under Prime Minister Helen Clark while the SFO investigated a $100,000 donation by millionaire businessman Owen Glenn, the existence of which Peters initially denied. While no charges were laid, NZ First didn't win any seats in the 2008 general election.

The latest developments also coincide with last night's release of a new Newshub/Reid Research opinion poll that showed NZ First at 3.5% support, below the 5 percent that would guarantee its return to Parliament at the 2020 election.

Ardern said she would "make no judgement" on Peters while the matter was being investigated by the SFO, while Peters issued a statement insisting that "in all its dealings the Foundation sought outside legal advice and does not believe it has breached the Electoral Act."

Monday's announcement makes NZ First the second political party in the New Zealand Parliament to be subject to current attention by the Serious Fraud Office, which lodged charges a fortnight ago against four unnamed individuals with respect to $100,000 of donations from a Chinese donor to the National Party.

Documents leaked to news media show the NZ First Foundation accepted funds which it then lent to the NZ First party.

Peters apparently sought on Sunday to pre-empt today's Electoral Commission and SFO announcements by calling on his party's executive to refer the alleged theft of NZ First documents to the police.

Pressed by journalists on whether Peters should remain in his post as both Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ardern said the SFO had the tools to investigate.

"I will make no judgement until that process is complete. I will not pass judgement on whether or not an offence has occurred or, if it has, who may be responsible until they've completed their work," said Ardern, who discussed the fast-moving developments with Peters after Monday's regular Cabinet meeting.

Once the situation was settled, however, she would be seeking a full review of political donations law, possibly using a select committee process that could seek independent, external advice.

Given the timing of the court action involving National Party donations and the NZ First inquiry, that was unlikely to be until after the September 19 election, she said.

Peters continued to insist that his party's arrangements for collecting donations have been "the same as other political parties."

"The New Zealand First Foundation is built upon the trust deed of the National Party," he said.

"However, the Electoral Commission's statement today further underscores the importance of reviewing the donations regime. I had already advised the party last week to take this course of action and itself refer the matter to the police, which the party had agreed to do.

"This does not imply any impropriety but is intended to ensure the party, as with all parties, have robust arrangements.

"If the review deems it necessary for New Zealand First and all parties to develop new arrangements to receive donations the party will consult with the Electoral Commission."

He said the party "believes it has followed the law implicitly."

- By Patrick Smellie of BusinessDesk

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