Key cops a battering over share revelations

Last updated 01:20 23/09/2008
Fairfax Media
COME CLEAN: Finance Minister Michael Cullen is accusing John Key of lying over his Tranz Rail shareholding after the National leader was forced to admit he had owned more shares than was previously thought.

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Labour today poured scorn on National leader John Key over his handling of his Tranz Rail shareholdings.

Mr Key has admitted he should have disclosed the full extent of his shareholding earlier, but has denied using his parliamentary position for personal profit.

He fronted media today after Finance Minister Michael Cullen yesterday accused him of lying about his shares.

Mr Key failed to disclose his Tranz Rail shareholding, which Labour says amounted to a conflict of interest, when he was National's associate transport spokesman in 2002 and 2003.

That was because he asked parliamentary questions about the Government's planned buyback of the country's rail tracks while holding the shares.

When Mr Key was questioned on the issue earlier this year he said his family trust had held 30,000 shares in the company, but sold them on June 9 and June 12, 2003.

But Dr Cullen revealed yesterday Mr Key's family trust had in fact owned 100,000 shares.

Dr Cullen said today Mr Key had initially tried to lie about the issue when asked about the issue by a reporter.

"He should have declared the conflict of interest. It is the perception around conflicts of interest, not just the reality."

It had been wrong of Mr Key to vigorously pursue information on Tranz Rail at the time the shares were being traded.

"He bought and sold shares at a profit, all of that while never disclosing an interest. He has been caught red-handed," Dr Cullen said.

Mr Key today said he did not know about the additional shares when he answered questions in July, but found out later on and should have disclosed it.

"I'm prepared to accept and I fully accept that. . . when I found out later on that there was a bigger shareholding even though the story had politically passed in the media, I should have come back and said that."

He said the number of shares varied at different times and was managed by a broker who had authority to act without referring back to the trust.

He said all the shares were owned by the trust and information on the share register that he had personally bought 50,00 shares was incorrect.

He said he did not personally gain from the shares and when rail started becoming a hot political issue, he sold them at a loss.

Labour has tried to paint Mr Key as a hypocrite for criticising New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, when he himself failed to disclose a pecuniary interest.

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But Mr Key rejected that. He said his share information was on the public share register, there was no Register of Pecuniary Interests for MPs until 2005, and whether he owned 30,000 or 100,000 shares was irrelevant to conflict of interest questions.

Questioned on the issue before he was aware the information had been released yesterday, Mr Key told One News his shareholding ranged between 25,000 and 50,000 shares up until June 2003.

It wasn't until pressed on the issue he admitted there were more shares.

Today Mr Key said his initial reaction to the question was a "genuine mistake", but New Zealanders could still trust him.

"I'm a person who operates in an open way. If I've made a mistake I'll front up and say I've made mistake."

Mr Key said he had acted in 2003 to get rid of all his shares.

- NZPA

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