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Peters cleared but PM keeps his portfolio

Last updated 23:46 10/10/2008
ANDREW GORRIE/The Dominion Post
SNAPPY COMEBACK: 'My advice to the SFO is to go and find some real crooks,' New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says.

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Prime Minister Helen Clark has ruled out reinstating Winston Peters as foreign minister after the NZ First leader was thrown a lifeline by the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO announced yesterday its investigations into NZ First finances found no fraud, but said other laws may have been broken.

Mr Peters may now come under the scrutiny of the auditor-general after the SFO passed on a fresh matter, involving an apparent gift to Mr Peters, which the SFO says should have been declared on the MPs' register of pecuniary interests.

It appears to be a separate matter to those which came under the scrutiny of Parliament's privileges committee - a $100,000 donation from billionaire expat Owen Glenn and a $40,000 donation from the Spencer Trust toward the costs of Mr Peters' Tauranga electoral petition.

Both were declared by Mr Peters on the pecuniary interests register after Parliament found him in contempt for knowingly failing to disclose the Glenn donation.

Mr Peters' lawyer, Peter Williams, QC, said the matter referred to the auditor-general was an administrative one and was "minutae".

"There is nothing to it whatsoever."

Mr Peters stood aside from his ministerial portfolios when the SFO launched its probe. Miss Clark said yesterday that though she was pleased the SFO had found no fraud, matters were still with other authorities.

She would remain acting foreign affairs minister till the election had delivered "a fresh mandate".

Mr Peters said the SFO investigation had been "a waste of time". "My advice to the SFO is to go and find some real crooks."

The SFO had raised some other matters in relation to the return of donations to the Electoral Commission and a police investigation. NZ First had cooperated fully with both agencies, Mr Peters said.

The SFO investigated donations channelled into NZ First through the Spencer Trust, including a cheque for $25,000 from businessman Sir Robert Jones.

SFO director Grant Liddell said though there was no basis for fraud charges, the way they were dealt with raised questions about other possible breaches.

"We have found information showing that the laws relating to election returns may not have been complied with ... NZ First's donations returns and the auditor's reports on those returns for 2005 and 2007 appear to be inaccurate.

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"The party's election-expenses return for 2005 also appears to be incomplete."

The Electoral Commission will consider further action against NZ First next week over its failure to declare donations from the Spencer Trust.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars from the trust were not declared, including $80,000 that is now the subject of a police investigation.

- The Dominion Post

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