Banks' police statements in public interest

Last updated 09:49 17/02/2014
Year Ended
Fairfax NZ
JOHN BANKS: The ACT leader's statements to police over campagin donations are in the public interest, the Ombudsman has ruled.

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The Ombudsman has ordered the release of statements given to police by outgoing ACT MP John Banks, ruling it was in the public interest. 

But the statements would not be handed over until after Banks' trial over allegations he knowingly filed a false electoral return. 

Media along with Labour leader David Cunliffe's office both requested Banks' statements after irregularities were alleged  in respect of electoral funding donations for Banks' 2010 Auckland Mayoral campaign. 

His trial, set down for May, follows a police investigation over whether Banks knew the sources of a $15,000 donation from Sky City and two $25,000 ones from Kim Dotcom, which were declared as anonymous.

Candidates must declare donations if they know who they are from.

In a decision released today, Ombudsman Ron Paterson said police were right to refuse some parts of the request, but not to withhold the statements in full.

In their response to the request, police said public interest had to be balanced with the privacy of person, particularly if allegations remained unproven. 

"However, police accepts that there is also a very high public interest in confirming that a thorough investigation was completed and that appropriate decisions were made in relation to a complaint about a public and democratic process."

Police have already released the executive summary of Detective Inspector Mark Benefield's criminal assessment report, along with statements of witnesses who authorised disclosure.

Paterson said that at the time of the request, Banks also had a reasonable expectation of privacy, because he had not at that stage been charged. 

But because he was an MP he should have forgone some of that expectation. 

"I am not convinced that a Member of Parliament who is interviewed by the Police, with a Queen's Counsel present, about alleged irregularities in respect of electoral funding donations when campaigning for Mayor of New Zealand's largest city, can have a high expectation of privacy in their statement, irrespective of whether charges ensue," he said.

"I recommend that the police release a redacted statement to the requesters once the related court proceedings against Mr Banks have concluded."

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- The Dominion Post

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