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Serious Fraud Office’s appeal against NZ First Foundation acquittal dismissed; Winston Peters wants apology

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By Kate Newton of RNZ

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.

Winston Peters demands apology

Immediately after the Court of Appeal issued its judgement, New Zealand First Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters released a statement saying “that there never was any evidence or intention to act illegally by New Zealand First or the foundation”.

The Serious Fraud Office prosecution was part of a “malicious attack” on the party, Peters said.

“The Court of Appeal’s ruling today has reinforced what we stated from the start – there was no wrongdoing.”

He demanded an apology from media.

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