Two people have been charged following the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation.
The defendants have been charged with ‘Obtaining by Deception’ in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case, the Serious Fraud Office announced today.
“The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party,” the SFO said in a statement.
The charges were filed on September 23.
NZ First leader Winston Peters spoke to media as the statement was being released today, saying the party "always knew we were innocent".
He says today's announcement clears the NZ First party, all MPs and sitting Ministers, all candidates and all party employees.
“It’s a relief of this cloud hanging over the party have been cleared.”
Peters criticised the SFO for the investigation and the timing of today's release, saying the party will be taking the SFO to the High Court.
"It is quite shocking for any who believe in fair elections that the SFO, one day from overseas voting and four days from advance voting beginning, would interpose itself into the General Election in this poorly conceived fashion," he says/
“The New Zealand First Party has instructed its lawyers to issue proceedings in the High Court against the Serious Fraud Office seeking declarations that the Serious Fraud Office has amounted to an abuse of its statutory powers and has been unreasonable.”
The SFO confirmed it was investigating the NZ First Foundation on February 18 after a complaint was referred to police - who then referred the matter to the SFO.
The Electoral Commission received a complaint about the New Zealand First Foundation last November following reports alleging the Electoral Act may have been breached.
Peters has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the foundation, National leader Judith Collins says she's "sure people will see Winston Peters’ lashing out for what it really is.”
Meanwhile, an Otago University law expert says Winston Peters was clearly trying to distance himself from the New Zealand First Foundation.
But, Professor Andrew Geddis says “the idea that it’s a separate autonomous entity that the party has no association with doesn’t bare with facts”.
Geddis says it’s interesting the “obtaining by deception” charges were laid under the Crimes Act, rather than under the Electoral Act as was the case of Jami-Lee Ross.
The charges under the Crimes Act carry a higher penalty.
He says the SFO can only bring charges if they have sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution and the office takes very few cases to court.
In fact, Geddis says all instances of court action by the SFO have resulted in convictions.