3 Nov 2008

Labour paid for Williams' Melbourne trip

7:56 am on 3 November 2008

A trip to Melbourne by Labour Party president Mike Williams to dig up information on National leader John Key was paid for by the party, leader Helen Clark confirmed on Friday.

Earlier Miss Clark had said Mr Williams paid for the trip himself.

On Friday she said she had since been told the expenses were met by the Labour Party.

Miss Clark also said she was aware of his trip, and its purpose at the time.

Labour has raised questions over Mr Key's knowledge of payments to Equiticorp in the 1980s involving sham foreign exchange transactions.

Labour has attempted to draw Mr Key into the case because he worked at Elders Merchant Finance in 1988, at the time one of the fraudulent payments was made. However, the questions it raised have failed to fire.

Mr Key said he had no knowledge of the transactions and no involvement in them.

He said it was part of a smear campaign aimed at discrediting him before the election.

Miss Clark, while trying to distance herself from the allegations, said on Thursday she did not know where the truth lies.

At the time she said knew Labour Party president Mike Williams was going to Melbourne to investigate the matter, but that he did so at his own expense.

Miss Clark said Mr Williams and key media think there are questions to be answered.

Not implicated - former SFO head

Mr Key gave evidence on the case to Australian authorities, about a lunch he had with one of the traders involved with the deals.

Former Serious Fraud Office director Charles Sturt reviewed the case on a daily basis and made the decisions on who to prosecute.

"John Key was simply one of scores of innocent people interviewed by the SFO in this investigation, in New Zealand Australia and other countries.

"There was not a scintilla of evidence linking Mr Key to anything untoward."

Mr Key said on Wednesday he had always been upfront about the matter and had himself raised it with The New Zealand Herald newspaper some months ago, because he had heard that Labour believed they had something on him.

He said he mistakenly told the paper he left Elders in 1987 but corrected that to 1988 in a subsequent interview.

Mr Key said he only found out on Wednesday that there had been two so called H-Fee transactions involving Elders and Equiticorp - one of them before he left Elders.

However, he told reporters on Wednesday the transaction that happened while he was still at Elders was done through the BNZ in Australia and he had no knowledge of it nor any involvement in it.