Editorial: Verdict ruins a reputation
The guilty verdict pronounced yesterday by Justice Edwin Wylie against John Banks in the High Court at Auckland was about as ignominious a finding as could be imagined for the MP. Last December, after failing to get the trial dismissed, Banks recalled how he had watched as his father and mother were sent to prison for long terms for serious offences. He spoke feelingly of how he had vowed to commit himself to a lifetime of hard work, honest endeavour and public service in an attempt to balance the family ledger.
Whatever one may feel about Banks' politics or personality, he went a considerable way to fulfilling that pledge. Banks was the child of an alcoholic back- street abortionist and a hard- core criminal involved in the sly-grog trade. One story he told was of being present when associates of his father fired off a few rounds from the machine- gun later used in the notorious Bassett Rd murders.
Given that background it would have been no surprise to anyone if he had followed in his parents' footsteps. Instead, with remorseless energy and ambition he went into legitimate business and built himself a large fortune. He followed that with a lengthy, if turbulent, political career, including several stints as a government minister and twice being elected against considerable odds to the mayoralty of the country's largest city.
Those achievements have been brought to a crashing end with yesterday's finding that Banks falsely declared that donations he had received towards his last, failed, campaign for the Auckland mayoralty were made anonymously. The outcome of the trial depended on whose account of what went on when the donations were made the judge believed. Banks' humiliation will be all the greater because the judge said that he found the account given by Kim Dotcom and his wife and bodyguard was reliable, necessarily suggesting he did not accept that given by Banks.
Banks' downfall has been as extraordinary in its way as was his rise. As a reasonably prosperous man, Banks had no reason to solicit or accept donations for his mayoral campaign, much less accept them from, among others, a German fugitive from American justice. He also had no reason to keep them anonymous. One of his donors, Sky City, did not wish to keep its gift anonymous and Kim Dotcom at that time was just another recent, if noisy, immigrant so there was no reason to keep his identity secret.
If there is any useful outcome from this sorry affair it is that the Local Electoral Act has been amended to clarify and tighten the rules governing donations. The law before was murky, so much so that the trial almost did not occur. After careful consideration of it, the police did not pursue it and it was only after a twice-bankrupt former accountant was given leave to bring a private prosecution that the Crown took it up.
Banks' political career virtually ended then and he announced he would not seek re- election. His real loss, though, as he will surely be feeling now, has not been of his career but of his highly-prized reputation.