Key met spy candidate for breakfast

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 24/04/2013
John Key
Fairfax NZ
JOHN KEY: The prime minister ate breakfast with Ian Fletcher just days after he selected a panel to interview candidates for the country's top spy job.
Ian Fletcher stand
IAN FLETCHER: The Government Communications Security Bureau director is prime minister John Key's long-time family friend.

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Prime Minister John Key had breakfast with Ian Fletcher just days after he selected a panel to interview candidates for the country's top spy job.

The pair ate together at Auckland's Stamford Plaza Hotel on June 17, 2011. Mr Key says the vacancy, as head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, was not discussed.

Three days earlier, Mr Key had signed off on an interview panel for the job, which included then Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Maarten Wevers. Mr Fletcher was the only person to be interviewed for the post, after a shortlist of four other candidates was rejected.

In the past month Mr Key's varying accounts of his relationship with Mr Fletcher have been seized on by the Opposition.

Labour's deputy leader, Grant Robertson, said: "Given the number of times John Key's story has shifted, it's hard to believe that the [GCSB] role did not come up."

Documents released yesterday by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie show it was agreed on July 6 that a shortlist of four candidates, drawn up by a recruitment consultant, was not suitable.

Mr Key went on to make the controversial telephone call encouraging Mr Fletcher, who was then working in Australia, to apply. He was interviewed on July 26.

While in New Zealand, Mr Fletcher met acting GCSB director Simon Murdoch, Security Intelligence Service director Warren Tucker and Intelligence Coordination Group director Roy Ferguson. The SSC said these briefings were "usual" for candidates at this stage in the recruitment process.

On August 3, Rennie phoned Mr Key to offer an update following the interview. 

Consultancy and other fees for the appointment process were almost $60,000, the papers reveal.

The documents include a Cabinet paper from August 2011 which recommends Mr Fletcher's appointment. It makes no reference to Mr Key's childhood acquaintance with Mr Fletcher. The pair attended the same Christchurch school and their mothers were best friends.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key says he "briefed Cabinet orally about his knowing Mr Fletcher".

Mr Robertson said the relationship should have been disclosed in the Cabinet paper.

"He also fails to mention that he called Ian Fletcher. It is a continuation of his economy with the truth when it comes to this appointment process," he said.

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Mr Key has played down his links to Mr Fletcher, saying they did not have contact for a number of years.

As well as the June 2011 breakfast, with Mr Fletcher, Mr Key yesterday disclosed that he also attended a dinner at the residence of the British High Commissioner on October 3 "at which Mr Fletcher was one of several people present".

They also had breakfast together on March 12, 2010, at the Hyatt Regency in Auckland.

Mr Key says Mr Fletcher is the right man to oversee an overhaul at GCSB, which was slammed in an internal review earlier this month. The report revealed the agency may have illegally spied on more than 80 New Zealanders over almost a decade.

Mr Rennie has previously defended the appointment as "a totally ethical process".

The Office of the Auditor-General has declined to investigate.

HOW KEY'S STORY CHANGED

"His appointment was made by the state services commissioner." - John Key, March 27.

"I wouldn't go that far. I haven't seen the guy in a long time." - Mr Key, March 27, when asked if Mr Fletcher was a friend.

"There were no more than a handful of interactions, in total, between Mr Key and Mr Fletcher between the mid-2000s and the time of Mr Fletcher's appointment at the GCSB." - Mr Key's April 2 written answer to questions from The Dominion Post, which also confirmed he made the phone call to Mr Fletcher.

"I'd forgotten that at that particular time." - Mr Key on April 3 as to why he had not disclosed the call earlier. He also admitted: "I know his number."

"I genuinely have no clue. I do not know how I got the number." - Mr Key tells Parliament on April 16.

He then followed that with: "I did not, at that point, have Ian Fletcher's mobile phone number. To the best of my knowledge, I actually rang the directory service to get the Queensland number. I do not actually have his number."

"I have once attended a dinner ... at which Mr Fletcher was one of several people present ... at the residence of the British High Commissioner on October 3, 2011 ... during my time as prime minister I have twice had breakfast with Mr Fletcher before he became director of the GCSB. This happened on March 12, 2010, at the Hyatt Regency in Auckland, and June 17, 2011, at the Stamford in Auckland." - Mr Key, April 23.

"He recalls the prime minister telling him at a meeting in 2009 that he knew Mr Fletcher ... the commissioner was discussing his general approach to the recruitment of chief executives. The commissioner's recollection is that the prime minister advised him that he knew Mr Fletcher from school in Christchurch, and that he had met Mr Fletcher infrequently since then." - Statement from State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, April 23.

- The Dominion Post

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