Lawrence Gullery / Stuff
NZ First leader Winston Peters and former MP Clayton Mitchell pictured during a race in Cambridge.
The former chief New Zealand party whip has received a number of donations which are at the center of a High Court case against the New Zealand First Foundation.
But former Tauranga List MP Clayton Mitchell was stunned when he found out what some of those donations were for, including the cost of special computer software.
Two men are on trial in Auckland High Court after being charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) with allegedly transferring just under $750,000 into two separate accounts, including the NZ First Foundation account between August 2015 and March 2020 to then spend on party expenses.
Despite attempts by media organizations to reveal the couple’s identities ahead of the last general election, the duo continue to face name suppression, which will be debated again on Thursday.
* NZ First Foundation trial: Former party operations director testifies
* New Zealand First Foundation: Trial begins for duo accused of election fraud
* Election 2020: Winston Peters threatens to sue the Serious Fraud Office as two people are charged with the NZ First Foundation
None of the men charged are ministers, sitting MPs or candidates before the 2020 elections.
On Monday, Clayton Mitchell told the court he had spent six years in parliament as a Tauranga List MP and had been tasked by Winston Peters with doing much of the fundraising for the party.
Mitchell said Peters came up with the idea of setting up a digital platform that needed funding to get started and it was agreed that all sitting MPs would help fund it in the form of a loan.
NZ First leader Winston Peters answers questions after his party blasted the Serious Fraud Office for its investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation. (Video first published on October 14, 2020)
He did not know that the bank account was linked to one of the defendants and that the money had never been refunded to Mitchell.
As the 2017 general election approaches, Mitchell said every MP is responsible for raising funds for the party, but has been asked to do more.
“The leader specifically asked me to do more fundraising [Winston Peters].”
Numerous documents, letters and emails were shown in court, including one with Peters’ handwritten annotations.
Mitchell said it was a letter from supporters regarding the 2020 election.
The former MP told the court he considered the foundation and the party to be “one and the same”.
“Sometimes I was a pillar to publish, sometimes the party and the foundation needed fundraising. I would direct him where he needed it most,” Mitchell said.
Former New Zealand President Lester Gray has raised issues with Mitchell over his concerns and frustration over the use of computer software to help grow the party short of a undertaken by one of the defendants.
“I was stunned to be fair…it showed how expensive it was to run a system that we thought was going to help the party and grow it…and it clearly wasn’t.”
In November 2019, after the media attention surrounding the donations, Mitchell met the accused and other party members where Mr A explained the structure of the New Zealand First party, the foundation and his own business.
“It was different from what I had been led to believe…I had trust issues…it left me with a lot of questions to answer.”
When the Election Commission asked Mitchell about his role in soliciting donations for the party in 2019, one of the defendants wrote up his response.
Mitchell admitted to soliciting donations for the party and the foundation, but thought they were “one and the same.”
He then said he had received legal advice and wanted to exercise privilege with respect to further questions about his responses to the Election Commission.
In May 2018, Mitchell was invited by Nigel Farage to observe the European elections.
Mitchell spoke with Peters about getting some time off to get there and said he was happy to pay himself.
“But he [Peters] said to run it through the foundation.
“I was instructed to do so. This was going to be a big boon to the party and help the campaign.
The court has already heard from a number of wealthy advertisers who thought they were donating directly to Winston Peters, not the foundation.
The trial before Judge Pheroze Jagose continues.