Friday, October 24, 2008

Winston "cleared" again

The Electoral Commission has cleared Winston Peters - rather his party secretary Anne Martin - of any offence in relation to NZ First's fraudulent donation returns in 2007. While the full decision has not been released to avoid prejudicing the ongoing police investigation, given the details revealed in the NZPA story, it is pretty obvious why. The relevant law is s214C of the Election Act 1993 (repealed in December 2007, but still in force for that year's donations), which states:

Every Secretary of a political party registered under Part 4 of this Act who forwards to the Electoral Commission under subsection (1) of this section a return that is false in any material particular—

(a) Is, if the Secretary forwards the return knowing that the return is false in any material particular, guilty of a corrupt practice and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding $20,000, or to both; and

(b) Is, in any other case, guilty of an illegal practice and is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding $20,000, unless the Secretary proves—

(i) That he or she had no intention to mis-state or conceal the facts; and

(ii) That he or she took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure that the information in the return was accurate.

From the NZPA story:
[But] Mr Peters said Mrs Martin [was] fully aware of the $80,000 donation.

"Yes she was aware of it, she went with the auditor to the Electoral Commission...trying to sort out whether it should or should not be declared," he told RNZ

The commission told her to get legal advice and that advice was that the donations through the trust did not have to be declared.

This clearly shows that there was no intention to conceal the facts, and that all reasonable steps were taken. So no offence was committed.

In many ways this stinks - NZ First clearly had a deliberate scheme to conceal their sources of funding from the public eye, and thus evade public oversight. But because the law puts the onus on the party secretary, the real people responsible - Peters and his co-conspirators in the Spencer Trust - cannot be held accountable for it. If we want accountability, we will just have to seek it at the ballot box.