Wong faces new allegations

ANDREA VANCE AND BELINDA MCCAMMON
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2010
wongwide
Photo: Dominion Post

Pansy Wong is claimed to be at the centre of new allegations involving her husband's business interests.

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Shamed former cabinet minister Pansy Wong is facing new conflict of interest allegations over a taxpayer-funded trip to China with Prime Minister John Key.

Wong and Key visited Beijing University in 2009 and a newspaper article reports her promoting New Zealand universities while there.

But Wong and her husband Sammy were both directors in Sampan Enterprise Ltd, which acted as an agent, giving student referrals, for Massey, AUT and Lincoln universities.

Wong quit parliament last week after allegations about her activities on an earlier trip to China. She resigned her ethnic and women's affairs portfolios when the scandal first broke.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson has asked the auditor-general, Lyn Provost, to reconsider her decision not to open an inquiry into Wong's use of her parliamentary travel perk.

"I have no issue with her promoting universities in Beijing. A year earlier I was in the same city doing the same thing," Hodgson said.

"But if my spouse had a private business promoting international students I would have known, as would nearly everyone else, that there was room for interests to be conflicted.

"That did not occur to her, or if it did, she ignored it. Worse still, if Key knew, he ignored it too."

The Beijing Today article "New Zealand's first Asian minister welcomes more Chinese students", said Wong visited the city's university "to invite more Chinese nationals to study in the country".

It said she told students she hoped her own experience of studying in New Zealand would inspire more Chinese students to study and realise their potential.

Wong was cleared of systematic abuse of her travel perk by an inquiry ordered by Speaker Lockwood Smith. It details the couple's business interests and notes that Sammy Wong has been a director and shareholder in Sampan Enterprise since 1988. The report said he set up the firm and used it "as a vehicle for investing in companies". It also listed his business activities as "providing services as an education agent, and student referrals to universities".

Pansy Wong was a director of the company between 1990 and 2005 and a shareholder until 2005.

She has admitted witnessing a contract involving Supreme Hovercraft, a company with which her husband was involved, on a previous visit to China, during an unplanned trip to a factory.

The Wongs said that was the only time they conducted business while travelling on the taxpayer but allegations have surfaced suggesting they engaged in more activity while on the trip, including an article from a newsletter that said a "co-operation agreement" was signed between the local government and Pure and Natural, of which Sammy Wong is a director. Hodgson said he had lodged written parliamentary questions with Key, asking who they met on the 2009 visit.

"He has been unable to tell me whether he met with any of the Wongs' business associates, or whether Pansy Wong attended all his official meetings."

Key is overseas and Pansy Wong did not respond to a request for comment.

NAT VOTERS TURN ON KEY

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Prime Minister John Key's reputation has taken a hit among National voters over his handling of Botany MP Pansy Wong's resignation.

A new poll shows the majority think he handled the travel expenses scandal poorly. The Horizon Poll of 1150 intending voters shows that, despite the auditor-general ruling it out, most New Zealanders think there should be further investigation into her travel expenses.

Poll respondents think Wong resigned because there's more information that, if published, would have made it impossible for her to continue as an MP.

Around 40% cited that as the reason she resigned, while 34% thought she quit to avoid the issue becoming a distraction for the Key government.

Wong said her decision to resign was not an admission of guilt.

But seven out of 10 New Zealanders remain unconvinced, and think the auditor-general should investigate the travel expenses, paid for by the taxpayer, for her and her husband.

Worryingly for Key, more than half of those who wanted an investigation voted National at the 2008 election.

Key blocked attempts by Labour MP Pete Hodgson to table more documents in parliament regarding Wong last week.

It's a move that could cost him in election year, with voters thinking he has handled the investigation poorly, with only 16% thinking he has been totally honest on the issue.

Just over 40% thought he managed the issue in the best interests of the National Party, while only 10% said his handling of the affair had been in New Zealand's best interests.

Key is overseas on holiday and his office had no comment.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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