Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Cam Slater: SFO Loses Third Case: Time to Rein Them In

Yesterday the SFO lost their appeal in the Court of Appeal in the long-running NZ First donations case. This is the third case the SFO has lost and it is not surprising as they tried to shoehorn Electoral Act offences into criminal charges. The Court of Appeal was having none it, and now Winston Peters is seeking an apology for their behaviour.

A Serious Fraud Office appeal against the acquittal of two men who handled donations to the New Zealand First Foundation has been dismissed.

The men, who have continuing name suppression, were accused by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of obtaining nearly $750,000 by deception between 2015 and 2020.

They were found not guilty by the High Court in Auckland in 2022 and the Court of Appeal dismissed an SFO appeal on Tuesday.

The appeal judgement found the High Court was wrong when it concluded the money was not party donations.

However, the SFO failed to prove the two men knew they were not entitled to the money, the judgment said.

It dismissed the appeal on that basis.

At their trial in 2022, the two men denied deceiving the New Zealand First party by collecting and spending money the Crown argued should have been treated as donations – with reporting obligations.

RNZ reported in 2020 that nearly $500,000 was collected by the foundation from some of New Zealand’s wealthiest people.

None of the donations was declared in electoral returns.

The High Court was told the New Zealand First Party was having money troubles roughly a decade ago.

Evidence presented to the court showed insiders were concerned it had no consistent funding stream and was missing bill payments, sometimes at party leader Winston Peters’ own expense.

It was within this context the Crown said the two men set up the New Zealand First Foundation, which gathered money and then spent it on party expenses.

The High Court found that the men obtained the money from party donors by deception, and also intended to deceive the party and party secretary.

However, the other elements needed to find them guilty were not proven, the High Court found.

That included that the men acted without a “claim of right”.

The Court of Appeal’s judgement today upheld the High Court finding that that element was not proven.
Radio New Zealand.

A clearer case of election interference cannot be found. The SFO announced this action just ahead of the 2020 election, an election that saw the Labour Party win an outright majority. Who stood to benefit most from knocking NZ First out of parliament? The Labour Party, obviously.

The media also inserted themselves into the debate. They were donkey-deep, telling us what they wanted to happen rather than the facts. The facts are now perfectly clear, having been tested in the courts: the SFO were wrong and have repeatedly been told they were wrong.

But that didn’t stop the media from running endless smear campaigns against NZ First, most notably by Guyon Espiner at Radio NZ and Matt Shand at Stuff. They, and every other media outlet, participated in the denigration of NZ First and Winston Peters.

Now Winston wants an apology:

In light of the judgement, deputy prime minister Winston Peters issued a statement.

“For the third time since April 2020, New Zealand First has defeated the Serious Fraud Office and all those complicit in a malicious attack against a political party going about its lawful business in a lawful manner.”

Peters said the “April 2020 attack” by the SFO “dramatically effected New Zealand First’s public image”.

He said New Zealand First is out of pocket by “hundreds of thousands of dollars” after defending itself in court.

“New Zealand First deserves an apology from those individuals in the complicit media for their relentless, venomous, biased, and politically motivated attacks directly prior to, and for the years following, the 2020 election.”

Peters said the Court of Appeal’s ruling reinforced there was no wrongdoing.

“We want an apology.”

I would have thought that sacking the head of the SFO would be a more appropriate outcome; maybe a disbandment of the SFO, devolved into the Police, and some sort of sanction for pursuing forlorn prosecutions, not just in this case but in the other cases as well.

The SFO went political and now they have egg all over their faces, and the victims of their ill-advised crusade are in positions of power and influence to exact utu.

Cam Slater is a New Zealand-based blogger, best known for his role in Dirty Politics and publishing the Whale Oil Beef Hooked blog, which operated from 2005 until it closed in 2019. Cam blogs regularly on the BFD - where this article was sourced.


Anonymous said...

A brave and necessary commentary above Cam. The book "Paradise Papers" written by Ian Wishart in the 1990's showed how much it appeared the SFO seemed to exist to prevent serious fraud from being exposed, not to deal with it.
Nothing has changed since then so they keep on keeping on. It does make one wonder about the existence of the Deep State as they seem to be equally effective across different governments.

Anonymous said...

The serious fraud office has always been tool of political elites and nothing more. It needs to be disbanded and the staff left to work in the private sector.