Peters on verge of an unhappy trifecta

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters last night proved the old adage of be careful what you wish for, when the Serious Fraud Office took him at his word.

After Mr Peters dared the SFO to either lay charges against him or shut up and go away, SFO director Grant Liddell announced he would conduct an investigation into donations made to NZ First.

He would particularly investigate allegations that funds donated to the party by Sir Robert Jones and Vela family interests did not reach their intended destination.

Mr Peters had accused the SFO of "creeping around back doors", dropping hints and providing media speculation but not finding any evidence of wrongdoing or illegality on his part.

"I am prepared to wait on the court steps for them and, if they don't turn up, they can go away for ever," he said.

Well, the SFO did turn up and Mr Peters now faces another major challenge to his political career.

There have already been plenty.

He has been sacked by two previous prime ministers and now, as Minister of Racing, he must know he is facing the trifecta.

Mr Peters will this morning meet Prime Minister Helen Clark, who is under increasing pressure to sack her minister or at least stand him down while the investigation is under way.

Other ministers have been "gone by lunchtime" for lesser offences.

No-one will be more pleased to see the end of Mr Peters than Act New Zealand leader Rodney Hide, who yesterday lashed out at National Party MPs he said were likely to let Mr Peters escape any censure from Parliament or its powerful privileges committee.

"National is playing into Labour's hands," he said in an interview.

All week, Mr Hide has been trying to raise questions in the House about whether Mr Peters personally solicited a $100,000 donation from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn.

He and Mr Peters clashed in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday, trading points of order about what Mr Hide could include in a question.

Mr Peters was out of the House yesterday, leaving his defence to his deputy, Peter Brown.

The privileges committee, chaired by National Party MP Simon Power, met earlier this week and released a letter from Mr Glenn which said Mr Peters had solicited the donation and then thanked him for it.

Mr Peters has previously said he had no knowledge of the donation, made to his lawyer Brian Henry in 2006 to help pay his legal costs, until Mr Henry advised him of it last month.

The privileges committee is considering whether Mr Peters broke Parliament's rules by failing to declare the donation, which could be treated as a personal gift.

Mr Hide declared his frustration at the delay in the committee meeting to consider the next step.

Before Thursday, Miss Clark could announce the election date, meaning the work of the committee so far will have been for nothing.

Leader of the House Michael Cullen indicated yesterday the House was likely to go into urgency.

When it is in urgency, there is no question time, preventing National Party MPs and Mr Hide from continuing to hound Mr Peters for answers.

The committee could meet during urgency, but only between 8pm and 9pm.

However, it could have met at any time this week , even 4.30am as it had done once before, Mr Hide said.

"It's been jolly hard to get this issue before the privileges committee and jolly hard to keep it active, particularly when the committee is meeting at the speed of a glacier melting.

"Michael Cullen can't believe his luck. Labour will be able to blame National for not getting to the bottom of it. Maybe, they don't want to know. For a while, I thought Simon Power was a Labour Party member," he said.

Mr Hide may now also get his wish, albeit from a different route than he previously anticipated.

Dene Mackenzie is in Wellington this week.


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