Auckland, February 18, 2020
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) prosecution of four people over donations to the National Party involves not one, but two $100,000 donations – in June 2017 and June 2018.
Court charging documents released to the media by order of Auckland District Court Judge Edwin Paul yesterday (February 17, 2020) show that three of the four defendants – whose names are suppressed ahead of a hearing next week – each face two joint charges of deception over a sum of $100,000 donated to National in 2017 and $100,050 donated to the Party in 2018.
The maximum penalty if convicted on the charge is seven years’ imprisonment.
The fourth person is charged jointly with the others only over the second $100,050 donation – but also faces one charge of providing misleading information to the SFO.
Lawyers for the defendants had opposed media having access to documents on the court file.
The SFO’s wording for the joint deception charges says: “By deception or without claim of right directly or indirectly obtained for the National Party possession of, or control over, any property, namely a $100,050 [for the 2018 charge] donation made to the National Party between June 1, 2018 and June 8, 2018 (“the 2018 donation”) in circumstances where the identity of the donor was not disclosed in the National Party’s Annual Return of Party Donations.”
The SFO describes the offending over the donations in these words: “The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem whereby the … donation was split into sums of money less than $15,000 and transferred into bank accounts of eight different people before being paid to, and retained by, the National Party.”
For the fourth person’s charge of misleading the SFO, the charging document says: “In the course of complying with a requirement … of the Serious Fraud Act 1990 supplied information knowing it was false or misleading in a material particular.”
The SFO says of that charge that this defendant told investigators a $100,000 sum transferred to their account was a deposit for a building on another person’s property – when the money had been intended as a donation to the National Party. Further, in 2019 the defendant created, signed and back-dated a contract to that end, when no real contract for that work existed. The office alleges the made-up contract copied wording from an unrelated contract.
The four defendants are due to make their first appearance in the Auckland District Court next Tuesday, February 25. They received interim name suppression from Judge Paul on January 31 after indications two media outlets intended to name those charged.
A political scandal late in 2018 over what was publicly thought to be one alleged $100,000 donation led to the police referring the matter to the SFO.
Last month, the SFO said it had filed criminal charges against four people “in relation to donations paid into a National Party electorate bank account”.
National’s leader Simon Bridges said at the time that “as expected,” neither he nor his Party had been charged following the investigation.
“I have always maintained I had nothing to do with the donations. As I have always said, the allegations against both myself and the Party were baseless and false,” he said.
Tim Murphy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of the Newsroom based in Auckland. The above article has been published under a Special Agreement.