NZ First Leader Winston Peters last night denied that he had been behind the photographing of two journalists meeting with former Party President, Lester Grey.
Party officials believe Grey has downloaded a swag of party documents from another party computer
The journalistS, RNZ reporter, Guyon Espiner, and Stuff reporter, Matt Shand, have been running stories detailing what they say are the accounts of the New Zealand First Foundation.
As a consequence of those stories, the Electoral Commission has referred NZ First to the Police for alleged breaches of electoral law, and now the Police have referred the case to the Serious Fraud Office.
On February 5 the BFD blog ran photographs of the pair meeting Grey outside a Tauranga mall. BFD is run by associates of the former Whaleoil blogger, Cameron Slater.
“What is interesting is that both Guyon Espiner and Stuff’s Matt Shand seem to have an uncanny ability to sight NZ First Foundation documents,” the blog said.
“They rather sneakily don’t declare that those documents are part of an investigation into an illegal theft from the NZ First Foundation, but then again perhaps their source never told them that. Their source is, of course, Lester Grey.”
Yesterday, on Radio Magic, Peters said “we took the photographs” which were published on February 5 on the blog,
National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett said it was a “chilling” action from Peters that “goes to the heart of our democracy”.
“Having a journalist followed and photographed at the request of the deputy prime minister shows an appalling lack of trust and integrity,” she said.
However last night, Peters posted a statement on the NZ First Facebook page reversing his former claim of responsibility for the photograph.
He said: “NZF has no interest in following Mr Espiner or any other journalists. The very reverse applies. No private investigators have been engaged to follow Mr Espiner or anyone else. A supporter thought it odd seeing ex-president Lester Grey with Mr Espiner so took a photo. Simple.”
The BFD blog said “Tauranga is a rather small place and people notice things…like Lester Grey and Guyon Espiner walking together at a busy shopping centre.”
New Zealand First officials believe that Grey has a substantial number of NZ First and NZ First Foundation documents which he obtained while President from another party official’s computer.
Last Sunday Peters said (in a statement) “Ongoing media stories using as their source stolen information are designed to skew an even political playing field.
“New Zealand First has so far been sensitive to the circumstances surrounding the theft of party information but can no longer tolerate the mendacious attacks against the party and its supporters.”
That the photograph should appear on the BFD blog is no surprise.
The blog is the successor to Whaleoil (today it will run a statement from “Whaleoil”, Cameron Slater on his future plans.)
Slater and Peters are both clients of Auckland lawyer, Brian Henry, who has described himself as a “blood brother” of Peters.
And another Slater associate, the Hawkes Bay political consultant, Simon Lusk, has also been involved with NZ First fundraising events. Lusk has a long track record of having been involved in politics and was involved in the so-called dirty politics saga with Whaleoil.
Lusk did not respond to questions from POLITIK last night about his current relationship with the party.
However, NZ First and Peters have continually maintained that they believed the NZ First Foundation’s fundraising activities were legal.
Ironically one of the party’s top fundraisers is Tauranga MP, Clayton Mitchell, who was a close friend of Lester Gray.
NZ First must have felt under siege last night with a One News Colmar Brunton poll confirming that they were below the five per cent threshold at 3.6 per cent and therefore would not make it back to Parliament.
Opposition Leader, Simon Bridges, immediately lept on this and sent out a fundraising email to supporters.
“The poll also confirms we made the right decision to rule out working with New Zealand First after the 2020 Election. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. I can’t trust New Zealand First, and I don’t think New Zealanders can either,” his email said.
NZ First’s performance in the poll must be worrying Labour and the bizarre events of yesterday will not have helped.
If NZ First can’t get over the line, then on last night’s poll, National and ACT would be able to form a Government.
In that case Labour might time feel it’s only option would be to back off its electorate campaign for its candidate, Willow Jean Prime, in Northland and hope that would enable Shane Jones to win the seat for NZ First.
On paper that it possible — the combined Labour/NZ First electorate vote at the last election for Winston Peters and Prime was 22,453; comfortably ahead of the National MP, Matt King, on 15243.
if NZ First won the seat, then, even on three per cent they would be back in Parliament with four MPs giving the centre-left block (based on last night’s poll) 61 seats versus 59 for National and ACT.
That is why Labour cannot afford to lose NZ First.