John Banks claims new evidence, will appeal conviction

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 14:34 01/08/2014
Stuff.co.nz

Former ACT Party leader John Banks says he has new evidence and will appeal his conviction over donations.

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John Banks will appeal his conviction for filing a false electoral return, saying he has "watertight" evidence that will exonerate him.

Banks, the ex-Epsom MP, ex-ACT Party leader, and ex-mayor of Auckland, was today sentenced to community detention and community work when he appeared in the High Court in Auckland.

Justice Edwin Wylie imposed two months of community detention that includes a 7pm to 7am curfew on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.


Read the sentencing notes here.


He also sentenced him to 100 hours community work.

Banks was found guilty on June 5 of knowingly transmitting a false electoral return for his failed 2010 campaign for the Auckland super city mayoralty. The charge arose over donations made by internet mogul Kim Dotcom.

It was widely expected he would apply for a discharge without conviction but the hearing began with Justice Edwin Wylie confirming no application had been lodged.

BANKS: NEW EVIDENCE WILL EXONERATE ME

Outside court, after sentencing, Banks said he would be appealing his conviction, saying he had fresh new "unimpeachable water-tight evidence" that would "completely exonerate" him.

Banks said he was innocent.

"As I have said from day one I did not file a false anything," he said.

Banks said that he respected the courts and he respected the judge but the new evidence had only just emerged.

He was going to start the Court of Appeal process urgently but he would not say what the evidence was.

He said that the process had been a serious punishment for him and his family.

He refused to comment further and left pursued by a swarm of media.

Retired Wellington accountant Graham McCready, who brought a private prosecution against Banks until the Crown took the case over, was also at today's court hearing. Outside court he said the judge had imposed a "very well analysed, properly constructed sentence".

McCready said community detention was the right sentence as a fine would "have been like paying a parking ticket".

He said Banks was being "ridiculous in maintaining his innocence, but that's his right I guess".

He said he was applying for costs of $45,000 plus GST for his work. Banks' legal team indicated it would oppose this.

"The universe is unfolding as it should," he said.

JUDGE: BANKS BROKE THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW

Justice Wylie said the charge Banks had been found guilty of related to Dotcom's contribution to his mayoral campaign.

The contribution was recorded as anonymous when Banks knew who it was from.

The judge said Banks had engineered the situation of the return being prepared by someone who did not know the facts, and he did not check the electoral return to "insulate" himself from the process.

"I found that you either had actual knowledge of the falsity or you deliberately chose not to check, because you had no doubt as to what the answer would be," the judge said.

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A pre-sentence report said Banks' offending had a "profound" effect on his wife Amanda who had moved to Central Otago as a result.

She had affirmed her "on-going support" for Banks, the judge said.

Banks told the report writer that the previous year had been one of "incremental humiliation" but he refused to consider himself a victim and he was not seeking sympathy.

Justice Wylie said there was evidence that Banks told Dotcom that if the donation was made anonymously it would be easier for Banks to help him in the future.

This was against the "spirit" of the Local Electoral Act, Justice Wylie said.

The judge said Banks could have used a secret trust to receive anonymous donations and it was "ironic" that Banks did not use a trust because he believed it was against the spirit of the law.

Prosecutor Paul Dacre said the offending was premeditated and was exacerbated by Dotcom being the largest donor to Banks' campaign after Banks himself.

'PERSONAL AND PUBLIC TURMOIL'

For the defence, David Jones, QC, said Banks had been found guilty on a single count representing a single event and it should be seen as an "aberration" in a career of public service.

Jones disputed the seriousness of the charge saying Banks was not elected mayor and the non-disclosure of an identity had no impact on the electoral process.

The Local Electoral Act had since been amended so the situation could never arise again, he said.

Jones said the case had caused Banks "considerable personal and public turmoil".

He had done the "honourable thing" and resigned from Parliament, which was "a mark of the man", the defence lawyer said.

"I ask that you take into account the immense fallout that has befallen the man."

Jones said Banks maintained his innocence, "as was his right", and it should not be held against him as an aggravating feature.

Justice Wylie said Banks had suffered significantly as a result of the case.

He had suffered great personal embarrassment, he had stepped down from Parliament and his standing in the community had diminished.

POSSIBLE PENALTIES

Under the Local Electoral Act 2001, Banks faced up to two years in prison or a fine up to $10,000.

The provisions relating to knowingly transmitting a false electoral return were repealed in June 2013.

Banks resigned from Parliament on June 9.

POLITICAL REACTION

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Banks' conviction was a "sad end" to a long political career.

"The court process has served to protect the integrity of our democracy and shield it from perceptions of improper influence.
 
"Mr Banks' should accept his sentence and move on."

He said the conviction was a reminder of the "dodgy deal" that kept ACT in Parliament.

""New Zealanders do not like the creeping arrogance which has become evident in National's approach to government - whether in gaming MMP, or in failing to hold its MPs accountable to the standards expected of them."

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister John Key said it was "inappropriate for the prime minister to comment while the matter is still before the court".

- Stuff

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