Labour says Key broke asset rules

13:42, May 31 2010
ALDGATE TRUST: In Parliament Mr Key agreed he did not know, and could not know, what was in his Aldgate Trust, listed in the MPs' register of pecuniary interests.
ALDGATE TRUST: In Parliament Mr Key agreed he did not know, and could not know, what was in his Aldgate Trust, listed in the MPs' register of pecuniary interests.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson will lodge a breach of privilege complaint against Prime Minister John Key today, alleging he misled the House over claims that he could not know what assets his "blind trust" held.

In Parliament yesterday, Mr Key agreed he did not know, and could not know, what was in his Aldgate Trust, listed in the MPs' register of pecuniary interests.

The Cabinet Manual recommends the use of blind trusts to ensure a minister can never be sure what his holdings are at any given time so there can be no conflict of interest.

But Mr Hodgson said investigations by Labour showed Mr Key's assets began to be transferred to a company called Whitechapel Ltd shortly after the 2008 election. That included his shares in Dairy Investment Fund Ltd, an interest in Highwater Vineyard in Central Otago and – later – a property company Earl of Auckland.

Mr Key gave away signed bottles of "J K" wine last Christmas with Highwater on the label.

Mr Hodgson said it was easy for Mr Key to know he still owned those assets because they would show up in a search of Whitechapel at the Companies' Office register. It was clearly a vehicle used by the trust managers to manage Mr Key's assets.

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"Whitechapel happens to be one London subway station away from his blind trust, Aldgate."

The directors of Whitechapel include Mr Key's lawyer from his family trust. Mr Key said last night that it was well known he established a blind trust after becoming prime minister. "The trustees of that blind trust have full control of the management of all the assets not listed in my pecuniary interest register.

"I am not aware of any of the assets contained in the blind trust. I have no rights to either acquire assets, dispose of assets, or to instruct those who manage them. Nor am I able to be informed of what is in the trust," he said

"Quite appropriately, this continues to be the case ... To the best of my knowledge, the only people who can be certain what assets the blind trust owns are the trustees, and anything else is mere speculation."

But Mr Hodgson said he would complain to Speaker Lockwood Smith. "It is almost certain Mr Key has misled Parliament by claiming his blind trust is indeed blind. While it is blind to the public, it is not at all blind to Mr Key himself."

Every politician knew what they put into their blind trust, but then lost information about what was in it. "Except Mr Key ... can find out any day of the week if he owns shares in this or that company."

A spokesman for Mr Key said the prime minister could not be certain what was owned by Aldgate.

When Mr Key talked about his interest in the vineyard, in an interview with a wine critic in January 2009, "it was a reasonable assumption the trust owned the vineyard. He could have been wrong. We just don't know."