Clark knew about Peters' donation

Glenn told PM about donation in February

Last updated 00:48 28/08/2008
POLITICAL STORM: Winston Peters is facing questions over what he knew about donations from expat billionaire Owen Glenn.

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Prime Minister Helen Clark revealed that she had been informed by billionaire expat Owen Glenn in February that he gave money to Winston Peters' legal fund.

It is the first time Miss Clark has given any indication that she knew there were conflicting accounts between Mr Glenn and Mr Peters over the donation.

Miss Clark confirmed she had immediately spoken to Mr Peters about what Mr Glenn had told her at a Auckland University function in February - yet just a few days later Mr Peters categorically denied receiving any money from Mr Glenn.

Miss Clark told reporters this morning questions over whether or not there had been a donation from Mr Glenn to NZ First had dominated news coverage the day they met at an Auckland University function on February 21.

During a conversation between them, Mr Glenn had passed on to her "pretty much what he said in the letter to the Privileges committee" yesterday, Miss Clark said.

"As you’d expect the first thing I did was go away and ring Mr Peters," Miss Clark said.

He told her then, as he has said all along, that he "never made a phone call to Mr Glenn".

A week later, on February 28, Mr Peters gave a press conference at which he held up a "No" sign repeatedly in answer to questions over whether Mr Glenn had ever given money to him or NZ First. That was despite knowing from Miss Clark's phone call that Mr Glenn believed he did.

The money was paid into a legal fighting fund administered by Mr Peters' lawyer, Brian Henry.

Miss Clark said she had formed the view after that conversation that while there was a conflict of evidence "it’s always seemed to me that somewhere, someplace, there must have been some kind of contribution, but it wasn’t clear where.

"Mr Peters of course is on the record….that the first he knew of the donation to his legal expenses was July 18."

Asked why she had not taken the matter up herself with the Privileges Committee given that she knew there were conflicting accounts, Miss Clark said she had accepted Mr Peters word "as an honourable member and that is the convention".

She was critical of his handling of the issue, however, saying it had left "a great deal to be desired".

She reiterated that Mr Peters job as foreign minister was safe for now, while the Privileges Committee continued its inquiries.

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But she was non committal when asked about whether new developments, including a decision by the Serious Fraud Office to investigate, would force her to stand him down.

"All new factors obv8iously are new material to be considered."

Miss Clark faces mounting pressure to head to the polls early as Mr Peters' political survival hangs by a thread.

Miss Clark resisted calls yesterday to sack Mr Peters after seeking his word during a phone conversation that he had not misled her, after claims emerged that he solicited a $100,000 donation from Mr Glenn.

But her hand could yet be forced by further revelations from Mr Glenn, who seems likely to be asked by Parliament's privileges committee to give further evidence next week, after Mr Peters made it clear that it came down to his word against Mr Glenn's.

The last hurdle to an earlier election fell yesterday, when NZ First pledged its support for the Government's emissions trading scheme, meaning the legislation could be passed as early as next week.

Miss Clark appeared determined to stand by Mr Peters yesterday, saying she would await the outcome of the privileges hearing before making her next move. But she looked increasingly isolated last night after National leader John Key cut Mr Peters loose and all but ruled out the NZ First leader from any future National cabinet.

Mr Key said he would demand more credible answers than those given by Mr Peters so far, and questioned his integrity. He said Miss Clark should stand Mr Peters down.

Mr Peters dismissed the threat as an empty one and said Mr Key had given himself "wriggle room".

But Mr Key said Mr Glenn had "absolutely no motivation to lie". National's move followed an explosive written statement to the committee yesterday, in which Mr Glenn challenged accounts by Mr Peters and his lawyer, Brian Henry, of how his $100,000 donation came about.

He said he was approached by Mr Peters personally in Sydney and agreed to help "in the belief that this step would also assist the Labour Party in its relationship with Mr Peters".

"Mr Peters subsequently met me socially at the Karaka yearling sales, I believe in early 2006. He thanked me for my assistance."

The privileges committee has been inquiring into what Mr Peters knew about the donation, after the NZ First leader repeatedly denied any knowledge of the money being paid into his legal fund till July 18, nearly three years later, after being informed of it by Mr Henry.

In a rare move, the committee met behind closed doors and agreed to publish Mr Glenn's statement after he requested that it not be treated as secret.

Mr Henry told the privileges committee last week that he made the request to Mr Glenn for money in a telephone call.

But Mr Glenn's statement said he did not know Mr Henry and did not recall having any discussion or communication with him "other than to receive remittance details".

Mr Peters stood by his version of events yesterday and challenged Mr Glenn's recall. He said the meeting at the Karaka sales happened in 2007, not 2006, as Mr Glenn had suggested.

And he said Mr Glenn's claim that the donation came at his request was "not factual and does not coincide with my recollections".

Mr Glenn has appointed a Wellington barrister in preparation for further questions from the committee.

Miss Clark may now feel the increasing need to distance herself from the NZ First leader, as he faces a possible Serious Fraud Office inquiry into wider questions surrounding donations to NZ First, and the potential for further fallout from the privileges hearing.

The last possible date for an election is November 15. November 8 has been tipped previously as the most likely date.

- The Dominion Post

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