Banks comes out swinging

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 17:08 17/10/2013
John Banks
LAWRENCE SMITH/ Fairfax
FACES COURT: Epsom MP John Banks has been ordered to stand trial over alleged electoral fraud in a mayoralty campaign.

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ACT leader John Banks has come out swinging - saying he's not going to be "sitting back and taking" a judge's decision to send him to trial over alleged election donations fraud.

District Court judge Phil Gittos yesterday ruled there was enough evidence for Banks to stand trial over $65,000 in pledges to his 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign fund.

The gifts came from internet mogul Kim Dotcom and the Sky City casino operator, but were registered as anonymous. Banks has insisted he doesn't know where they came from - but Dotcom has claimed otherwise.

Banks resigned his ministerial portfolios in the wake of the court decision yesterday, but will remain in Parliament. Speaking for the first time since he quit, he told reporters today the judge's decision was wrong, but he respected it.

The Epsom MP acknowledged the ACT party brand had been damaged but indicated he planned to stand for office again at next year's general election. He was flanked by party president John Boscawen, a former MP.

Banks wouldn't bow to pressure from Opposition politicians to abstain from voting on Sky City convention centre legislation later this year.

His legal team were now looking at legal remedies and he may appeal, he said.

"But I'm not unhappy that I have to go through the process because I'm not above the law," he added.

Banks re-iterated that he believed he did no wrong.

"I never, I never and I would never knowingly sign a false election return. I wouldn't do it, I didn't do it and I'm going through the process of the law to prove it."

Labour and the Greens said it was a conflict of interest for Banks to vote for legislation that would see the construction of a $400m convention centre by Sky City.

However, Banks said he has backed a centre for Auckland since he was mayor and has told National he would cast his vote.

He also intended to stand for election, saying the court action would be "well and truly' over by the time the country goes to the polls.

"Your character is defined by how quickly you get up. And I'm up," he said.

Banks told reporters he was a "born optimist" and "a fighter".

"The price of progress is always trouble. I must be making some progress, because I seemingly am always in trouble."

Parliament was now holding an urgent debate on the matter.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei  said the government now relied on the support of two disgraced and discredited former ministers - Banks and United Future leader Peter Dunne.

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Dunne was forced to quit over a leak of a report into illegal spying  earlier this year.

REPRESENTATION

The Government's lawyer is considering whether to take over the private prosecution of ACT leader John Banks.

Solicitor-General Michael Heron QC was today considering whether to take over the case now that Banks had been committed for trial.

Retired Wellington accountant Graham McCready began a private prosecution last year after police decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed. Heron initially refused to be involved in June, when approached by McCready.

But, in a letter to McCready and Banks' lawyer, David Jones QC, he said he was revisiting the matter.

If he agreed, taxpayers would foot the bill for the Crown lawyers to take over the case.

PORTFOLIOS

The ministerial portfolios held by ACT leader John Banks will go to cabinet ministers Bill English and Steven Joyce.

Prime Minister John Key has reassigned the regulatory reform portfolio to Finance Minister Bill English. Small business goes to Joyce.

His associate minister responsibilities, in education and commerce, will revert to the portfolio ministers Hekia Parata and Craig Foss respectively.

Key said yesterday he intended to re-instate Banks if he was successful in defending his case.

- Stuff

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