The Security Intelligence Service has investigated one of the military's most senior commanders over allegations he failed to declare an affair with a subordinate during security vetting.
Commodore Kevin Keat was stood down in January from his position as assistant chief in charge of personnel at Defence Force headquarters in Wellington, and a high-level military investigation into his relationship with a civilian in his department continues. Keat, 54, who is married with adult children, is understood to be suspended on full pay.
Military sources say the woman involved alleges Keat bullied, harassed and stalked her after she tried to end their long-running affair and at one point threatened to end her career and that of her daughter, who serves in another branch of the military.
It is understood the woman alleges Keat exercised power and control over her employment conditions, including her contract and pay.
The scandal goes right to the top of the military - the Sunday Star-Times has learned the woman approached the chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, last October, told him she was in a relationship with Keat, that it was affecting her work and that Keat had told her not to declare their relationship on her security clearance form.
It is understood Jones spoke to Keat, who said the relationship was over, and no further action was taken.
In was not until late January when the woman told the vice chief, Major General Tim Keating, she felt threatened that a formal inquiry was launched.
The Defence Force would not answer questions about Jones' handling of the case. A spokesperson confirmed in a statement that a "preliminary inquiry into a discipline issue" involving a senior member of the armed forces was under way, and no-one had been charged.
Any further comment would be "likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law".
The Star-Times has learned the inquiry began as an employment case but escalated into a military inquiry under the Armed Forces Discipline Act as more allegations from the woman surfaced. Keat could face charges. He was interviewed for the first time about the allegations the Friday before last.
Approached at his Upper Hutt home last week, Keat was not prepared to discuss the allegations. "I'm not talking about it, I'm not confirming anything. They [the allegations] are being inquired into. I'll let it go through due practice."
His former lover, whom the Star-Times has decided not to name, declined to comment when contacted on Friday.
Sources say when the military inquiry was launched in February, the SIS was alerted because of concerns over what information was disclosed during security vetting.
After being deployed as deputy commander of the International Stabilisation Force in East Timor in 2009, Keat's security clearance was raised to the highest level and he was required to declare all relationships.
Military sources say the woman claims the pair were in daily phone contact while he was in Timor, and she saw him off at Ohakea air base when he returned to Timor after a leave break.
The Star-Times understands the SIS investigation focused on whether he declared the relationship, and whether he shared any sensitive Defence Force information with the woman.
A spokesperson for the SIS said on Friday all of its dealings were in strict confidence. "Therefore, we cannot discuss any connection that NZSIS may or may not have had with Kevin Keat."
Keat is one of the Defence Force's most senior officers and as head of personnel saw through the controversial "civilianisation" of the force. under which hundreds of military jobs are to be converted
to civilian positions in order to save $20 million a year. Auditor-General Lyn Provost issued a report in January slamming the cuts, saying the Defence Force had chosen a path that had led to a drop in morale and an increase in attrition resulting in reduced capability.
Keat's relationship with the woman is alleged to have begun about four years ago when they were both based in Auckland, and they ended up working together at Defence HQ around 2010.
Military sources say the pair would meet at her place and at bars and hotels around the country, and Keat would buy her gifts.
Senior military commanders asked him around 2010 if he was having an affair, but he allegedly denied it. Sources say the woman alleges she offered to go with him to senior commanders to declare the relationship, but he declined because he had not disclosed it on security vetting forms.
Keat allegedly asked her to lie about the relationship if asked, the sources say.
In 2011 someone posted anonymously on TV3's website about Keat having a "long-standing affair".
It is alleged he tried to have the post removed and again refused the woman's offer to go to the chief of defence to declare their relationship.
Military sources say the woman tried to end the affair in late 2011 and threatened to tell Keat's wife if he didn't accept it.
He allegedly threatened her job, and that of her daughter. Witnesses to that conversation have given statements to military investigators.
It is understood the woman's own security clearance came up for renewal early last year and she spoke to Keat about what to do. She alleges he encouraged her not to mention the relationship, and threatened to make sure her employment agreement wasn't renewed if she did, sources say.
It is understood the woman alleges that around Christmas last year, after she had stopped taking Keat's calls, he began turning up at her home at all hours.
The woman eventually complained to Keating in late January, and Keat was stood down.
The inquiry has dragged on for more than two months and has at times been bizarre - Defence Force sources say some staff have even been asked if they had discussed the size of Keat's penis.
WHO IS KEVIN KEAT?
Born April 21, 1958 Served with the navy for more than 30 years, beginning as ordinary seaman and now a commodore.
Rose to assistant chief of navy in 2004.
Commanded troops in East Timor in 2009, receiving the New Zealand General Service Medal.
Awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for work to establish HQ Joint Forces.
As head of personnel for Defence Force, implemented "civilianisation" which saw hundreds of job losses.
Holds a diploma in strategic studies
Has been married twice.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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