Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Conflicted and dishonest

TVNZ tonight had an expose on John Key's dodgy dealings with TranzRail shares back in 2002 and 2003. We've heard some of this story before, when it was revealed that he had failed to declare a financial interest in the issue when questioning Michael Cullen in Parliament. But the new revelations make it much worse. We have Key intensely questioning Cullen in a select committee meeting on the deal to buy back the track, when he has 50,000 shares lurking in the background, and other committee members have recused themselves for financial reasons. And we have Key increasing his stake, then pumping the stock in his MP's newsletter without disclosing that he had an interest, and doubling his money as a result. This is coming awfully close to using Parliamentary resources to run a pump and dump scam, and it shows at the minimum a complete inability to make the necessary distinction between public and private business. It seems Key was unable to check his wall St money-man instincts at the door when elected to public office, and just kept on wheeling and dealing.

(And remember, all of this was wrong by Key's own standards. In October 2003, during the debate on Parliament's register of pecuniary interests, he said:

It might be a bit uncomfortable, but if I am a shareholder of Tranz Rail and I want to get up in this House and start talking about that company, then my shareholding is relevant.
Of course, Key had done exactly that, without saying a thing...)

But the most interesting bit is actually Key's reaction to being found out. And as with Lord Ashcroft, his first response was to try to obfuscate and lie his way out of trouble:

Key says he is "absolutely confident" the New Zealand public can trust him.

But what about when it comes to trading in shares? Key was asked by ONE News Deputy Political Editor Francesca Mold, how many shares exactly did he and his family own in Tranz Rail?

"Fifty thousand at the maximum point. Sometimes 25,000, sometimes 50,000," he said.

He was asked did he personally buy 50,000 shares in Tranz Rail in 2005 and sell them five weeks later.

"Oh look actually maybe 100,000 from memory, yes. Sometimes 50,000, sometimes 100,000 yep," he replied.

It was put to him that that is an issue he should be clear about.

"Well, sorry, yeah, it was 100,000 in total," he said.

His answer to why he had only ever admitted owning 30,000 shares in the past? "No one's ever asked".

These are not the answers of an honest man. Instead, they are the answers of a bullshitter, with the truth admitted only when he realises it is already known. That dishonest attitude may have served Key well when he was crashing currencies for fun and profit - but we expect rather better from our politicians.