Prime Minister John Key congratulated spies for their co-operation with other agencies on the Kim Dotcom raid as he spoke to them in their staff cafeteria, Labour claims.
Leader David Shearer has gone public with allegations that Mr Key referred to Dotcom when talking to Government Communications Security Bureau staff in February, and that it was caught on camera.
Mr Key challenged Labour yesterday to produce the tape. He maintained that he was not briefed on the agency's work on the case until September 17 and said he could not remember making any remark about the German millionaire before that.
He accused Mr Shearer of "utter desperation" and attacked his credibility.
GCSB says it conducted an "exhaustive" search and has categorically denied the existence of any recording. A political standoff ensued yesterday, with Mr Shearer urging Mr Key to "search his memory".
Versions of what Mr Key actually said vary. One of Labour's sources recalls a quip about Dotcom, but another says it was a "well done" for inter-agency co-operation on the investigation.
Mr Shearer said the GCSB initiated a search for the tape after rumours began circulating among staff about its existence. About 100 staff watched the speech, and Mr Key said GCSB had changed its mind about taping it for staff who could not be present. He does not recall seeing a camera and staff are banned from having mobile phones in the building.
Mr Shearer suggested the tape may have been destroyed when officials from the office of GCSB director Ian Fletcher seized computer hardware from staff this week. "From what I know, these guys had put it [the recording] on their hard drive, and their hard drives were taken."
But Mr Key denies this , and says the review of files and records was part of a wider investigation he had requested.
"It is a very serious allegation to make . . . you can't destroy things at an agency like GCSB - and what motivation would there be anyway?"
He called on Mr Shearer to apologise to the GCSB for impugning its integrity.
"New Zealand needs to judge me . . . they can either rely on my word or not. I leave it up to them," he said. "I stand by everything I said. I don't have any recollection of cracking a joke . . . I crack jokes all the time about topical events . . . but if the allegation . . . is somehow that I had some secret briefing, that I was fully au fait with everything the GCSB was doing and that's what led me to crack a joke, he's utterly wrong."
Mr Shearer admits Labour does not have "a smoking gun", but says that "at the same time Key can't prove that he didn't know."
An investigation is now under way at the bureau into who made an "unauthorised disclosure" to Mr Shearer.
- The Dominion Post
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