The Serious Fraud Office has confirmed it will investigate donations made to the New Zealand First Foundation and whether they were compliant with electoral law.
The official confirmation comes just over a week after the Electoral Commission referred the foundation to the police, who in turn passed it to the SFO.
Last November, Stuff reported an investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation had uncovered financial records showing donations that had been used to fund an array of campaign and political expenses, but with the donors’ identities not disclosed.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has repeatedly insisted the foundation’s structure is entirely lawful, while distancing himself from its creation and operation.
However, in its statement about the police referral, the commission said it had “formed the view that the New Zealand First Foundation has received donations which should have been treated as party donations for the New Zealand First Party”.
“In the commission’s view, the donations were not properly transmitted to the party and not disclosed as required by the Electoral Act 1993.”
In a one-line media statement, the SFO said: “The Serious Fraud Office has today commenced an investigation in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has sought to distance herself both from the status of the foundation and Peters’ statement, and subsequent denial, of the party’s involvement in taking photographs of journalists at Stuff and RNZ meeting with the alleged source of the documentation showing donations to the foundation.
“Look, ultimately, you’re asking me to act as judge and jury in what is a case involving party members and past leaders of that party. And, as I’ve said before, there are many, many matters for which I am responsible, but an internal dispute between a political party is simply not one of them,” Ardern told media on Monday.