Prime Minister John Key has outlined the nature of his friendship with chief foreign spy Ian Fletcher under questioning about the illegal surveillance on Kim Dotcom.
Their acquaintance dates back to their childhood, when their mothers were "best friends", Key said. He also went to school with Fletcher's brother.
Key made the admission in Parliament this afternoon after questions from Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson about the Dotcom spying episode.
Robertson asked if Key recommended the appointment of the Government Communications Security Bureau boss Fletcher, who took over the role early last year.
"His appointment was made by the State Services Commissioner, but if the member is trying to make some other allegation, yes I knew him, I went to school with his brother, his brother was way brighter than Grant Robertson," Key said.
Robertson then questioned if the pair renewed their relationship when they both worked in London in the 1990s.
"I can't recall particular occasions," Key said.
"What I can say . . . was my mother was best friends with his mother. If that makes a conspiracy, fair enough."
The Opposition have repeatedly cast doubt on Key's claim he first became aware of illegal surveillance on the German millionaire in September last year. GCSB first became aware of Dotcom's residency status - which would have barred them from intercepting his communications - after a February 16, 2012 briefing.
Robertson was questioning why this was not raised in Key's three briefings with Fletcher in that month.
After question time, Key told reporters he "vaguely" knew Fletcher. He would characterise him as a friend and saw him "from time to time, but not very often".
"My mother and his mother are great friends," he said.
He stressed the SSC were in charge of the recruitment process and presented him with their recommendation. He can't recall if he declared the relationship.
"[I] just said 'it's fine, good appointment, he's very bright'. He used to work for Tony Blair and various other governments, he's one of the most senior civil servants in the British system, he's a very good person, he's doing a great job," Key said.
However, Green MP Steffan Browning claimed an associate had told him that Ian Fletcher had told people that while living overseas that he would always call on Key when he returned to New Zealand. Browning said the pair were "mates".
"That is real close and I think it's sinister to have that sort of relationship with the head of the GCSB," Browning said.
"They're about to revamp. For them to have that sort of relationship, it's nepotism - it's more than that, it's something you might think [went on] in some sort of third world country where there aren't decent checks and balances."
Robertson said Key must clarify the exact nature of the relationship.
"I'm interested that Mr Key chose to reveal this in the House many months after this issue first came to light," he said.
Dotcom is battling extradition to the US on internet piracy charges. His lawyers fought to make public the role GCSB played in the raid on his home in January 2012.
GCSB's legal department decided last February that there was no issue with his residency status - but were later proved wrong when the illegal surveillance was made public in September.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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