25 Jul 2008

Peters to face critics over donations

4:11 pm on 25 July 2008

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says he plans to explain the facts about political party funding at a news conference on Friday.

Mr Peters has been under almost constant attack over party funding since he left for overseas duties as Foreign Affairs Minister. He arrived back in Auckland on Friday morning but did not at that stage speak to media.

The row threatens to overshadow the visit by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrives in Auckland on Friday night, for the first such high-level visit to take place in almost a decade.

Mr Peters has been the subject of a series of allegations over donations to his New Zealand First party and towards the cost of legal bills.

He rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing, saying there is no factual or legal basis to any of the accusations.

Mr Peters says he will address the media on Friday afternoon, and speak in Parliament next week, to let New Zealanders know what has been going on.

Jones concerned about donation

Businessman Sir Robert Jones is asking New Zealand First to confirm his $25,000 donation to the party.

Sir Robert says in about 2005 he was approached by Mr Peters for a donation and had a cheque written out to the Spencer Trust, which was intended as a donation to New Zealand First.

However, there is no record of the donation in New Zealand First's 2005 or 2006 donation returns.

Sir Robert says he is concerned about what happened to the money.

Mr Peters' brother, Wayne Peters, who is said to administer the Spencer Trust, says Sir Robert should have no such concerns, but would not comment further.

It is the latest controversy regarding donations to political parties and contributions to legal costs of the New Zealand First leader.

The row centres on a donation of $100,000 towards Mr Peters' legal costs from businessman Owen Glenn, as well as a report in The Dominion Post that his party received up to $150,000 from a prominent racing-industry family between 1999 and 2003.

ACT leader wants answers

ACT Party leader Rodney Hide has written to the Cabinet Secretary asking her to clarify the obligations of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

He has also asked the Cabinet Secretary about declarations Mr Peters has made on the Register of Pecuniary Interests and any conflicts of interest he has identified.

Earlier this week, Mr Hide complained to Parliament's Speaker about Mr Peters' failure to declare a donation from Mr Glenn and has asked Prime Minister Helen Clark to investigate all the allegations involving Mr Peters.

The Prime Minister's office says it has received an assurance that New Zealand First has acted lawfully over its handling of party donations.

A spokesperson for Miss Clark says clearly it is a party matter, and she takes Mr Peters at his word.

Mr Peters says New Zealand First has always played by the rules and will take legal action against The Dominion Post over suggestions some donations to the party may not have ended up in its accounts.