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John Banks found guilty, will stay in Parliament

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 16:16 05/06/2014
DANIEL GALVIN/stuff.co.nz

John Banks has been found guilty of knowingly transmitting a false electoral return.

Brownlee on Banks verdict

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GUILTY: John Banks appears in the High Court in Auckland charged of knowingly filing a false electoral return.
John Banks through the ages
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John Banks at a mayoral debate in 2004. He lost the Auckland mayoralty in 2004, but regained it in 2007.
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John Banks will remain in Parliament and the Government will carry on, despite the MP being found guilty of knowingly transmitting a false electoral return.

Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said Banks had not been convicted and therefore could remain in Parliament. Banks will probably apply for a discharge without conviction at his sentencing on August 1.

Prime Minister John Key, speaking in Nuie before boarding an Air Force flight back to New Zealand, reiterated that he could not comment ahead of Banks' sentencing.

But he said the Government had a clear majority through the Maori Party and there would be "no impact on the government's majority position or its capacity to govern".

Banks, the member of Parliament for Epsom and the former leader of the ACT Party, appeared in a packed High Court at Auckland today to hear Justice Edwin Wylie deliver his verdict after a two-week trial.

"Mr Banks, I find you guilty of the charge," the judge said.

The charge of "transmitting a return of electoral expenses knowing that it is false in a material particular" related to three entries in the electoral returns for Banks' failed 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign.

The donations were recorded as anonymous, but the Crown said Banks knew two donations of $25,000 each were from internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and one of $15,000 was from SkyCity.

Justice Wylie said he was not persuaded of the charge on the Sky City donation but he was "sure" that the charge had been proven in relation to Dotcom's donations.

The judge said he was "satisfied beyond reasonable doubt" that Banks either had actual knowledge of the Dotcom donations or he deliberately did not check the electoral return so the donations could be transmitted as anonymous.

Banks' lawyer David Jones, QC, asked that a conviction not be entered as an application on that issue would be made at sentence.

Banks was remanded at large for sentencing.

The judge ordered a pre-sentence report and a report on the suitability of home detention.

BANKS ON SONG

Outside court, Banks said: "There's a wonderful 1930s song, On To Every Life Some Rain Must Fall, and for me the rain is still falling.

"We were hoping it would become a very sunny day. We are disappointed with the verdict, we are surprised with the result and now we come back here on August 1 and I talk to my legal team about options we have going forward."

Asked if he accepted that he had done something wrong Banks said: "From day one I have told you I have never filed a false anything let alone a false return.

"We have some legal options.

"Allow me the process of the law, we need to have a look at the judgment and take some calls from there."

He declined to comment further and was pursued down the street by a mob of reporters.

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PM: THIS DOESN'T AFFECT THE GOVERNMENT

Speaking from Niue ahead of the verdict, Key said the Government would remain stable, regardless of what the court decided.

"We have more than enough votes in terms of confidence and supply - we have a relatively short number of weeks to run until the house [rises]," he said.

"But whatever the case, and whatever the outcome, we'll be able to govern in a stable manner."

Key said he was not aware of any further legislation the Government needed to push through, that wasn't confidence or supply.

His office later said the prime minister would make no further comment.

BROWNLEE: HE HASN'T BEEN CONVICTED, HE CAN STAY

Brownlee said questions about Banks' status needed to be directed to Speaker of the House David Carter.

"He [Banks] hasn't been convicted and therefore he can remain in Parliament," Brownlee said.

He dismissed questions about whether the Government would hold an early election saying it was "really not an option".

National was still able to govern as it had the support of UnitedFuture and the Maori Party.

"I would stress that Mr Banks is still an elected member of Parliament able to exercise his vote as he wishes, according to the people who elected him."

Brownlee said he would not comment on whether or not he thought Banks was guilty and did not believe National had underplayed the severity of the charges.

"These things are not matters where there should be political interference of any type," he said.

He did not believe National would have to cut any deals with United Future or the Maori Party to stay in Government. Brownlee said he always believed Banks to be an "honourable man", adding: "I think he would be very disappointed by this."

Carter's office has declined to comment.

Under the Electoral Act, where an MP is convicted of a crime with a maximum sentence of more than two years, the Registrar of the court has 48 hours to inform the Speaker.

'GOVERNMENT PROPPED UP BY A CORRUPT POLITICIAN'

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the National Government had been "propped up by a corrupt politician" and it was time for Key to acknowledge this.

"John Key turned a blind eye to John Banks, refusing to read the Police report which ultimately led to this prosecution," Cunliffe said.

"The Prime Minister has wilfully ignored the case against the MP for Epsom because he was prepared to have his government propped up by someone who has acted illegally."

THE FAT MAN SINGS MOZART

Outside court, retired accountant Graham McCready, whose private prosecution of Banks led to today's court appearance, said he was retiring from bringing private prosecutions due to ill health.

He said he was "stoked" at the verdict.

"I always said it's never over until the fat man sings Mozart."

He then sang "Banks you're convicted" for assembled media.

He said that private prosecutions were an important check and balance on the system.

ACT 'VERY DISAPPOINTED'

ACT president John Thompson said the party was "very disappointed" with the verdict.

"While ACT had nothing to do with Mr Banks 2010 mayoral campaign we have always found him to be a man of integrity," Thompson said.

THE TRIAL

The two-week judge-alone trial saw allegations from the Crown that Banks had manipulated the system, "camouflaging" the SkyCity donation.

Prosecutor Paul Dacre QC said that rather than directly hand the SkyCity cheque to his campaign treasurer who was "10 paces away", Banks gave it to a middleman to pass on to the treasurer.

"Banks engineered the situation so [the treasurer] had no information and could not list them as anything other than anonymous," Dacre said.

"Failure to advise was not simply an oversight."

The Dotcom donations were a clearer case of contrasting evidence.

Dotcom, his wife, business manager and bodyguard, all gave peripherally conflicting evidence but agreed on the central point – that Banks came to Dotcom's north Auckland mansion and asked that a donation of $50,000 to be split into two cheques so it could be kept anonymous.

Banks and his wife disputed the account.

They agreed they had been to the mansion for lunch but Banks told police he did not ask for the donation to be split and he left without even knowing whether a donation would be made.

Amanda Banks testified that, in contrast to Dotcom's wife Mona who said she witnessed the donation conversation, there was no talk of political donations while she and Mona were at the lunch.

Banks' lawyer said Dotcom and his entourage had doctored their stories in an attempt to pervert the course of justice and bring down Banks and the Government.

"This is very much a case about corruption but it's not Mr Banks who is corrupt," Jones said.

He brought out Dotcom's criminal past and suggested he was acting in revenge for the Government's assistance to the United States when he was arrested on charges of criminal copyright violation.

- Stuff

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