NZ First Foundation case: Suppression argument moves to High Court after appeal by accused

One of two people charged in the NZ First Foundation case has filed an appeal to the High Court after losing an argument for continued name suppression.

Earlier this month, Judge Deidre Orchard dismissed an application for continued secrecy after hearing a day of arguments at a hearing in the North Shore District Court.

She said the first defendant, who made the application, had “failed to demonstrate that publication will lead to extreme hardship”.

The judge ordered suppression for both accused to lapse at 9am on Monday, unless an appeal was filed.

The accused, however, has filed an appeal with the High Court this week as he seeks to keep his identity hidden in the case over allegations of improper political donations.

A hearing for the appeal is expected to be held next year in Auckland.

Suppression has been opposed by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which laid obtaining by deception charges against the pair in September, and a consortium of media organisations, including the Herald’s publisher NZME.

At last month’s hearing, the first defendant complained the case has been “politicised” and was an attack on NZ First leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

He had also called on controversial blogger Cameron Slater to support the argument with an affidavit.

But Judge Orchard said in her decision: “This ignores the fact that the prosecution alleges impropriety in the way funds have been solicited from donors to a prominent New Zealand political party … In my view the subject matter is inherently political. It is bound to attract considerable media attention and that attention is legitimate.”

They two accused have denied the allegations and have pleaded not guilty.

Both have elected trial by jury and are on bail until they next appear in court in January.

Neither of the accused is a minister, sitting MP, was a candidate in the 2020 election or a member of their staff, or a current member of the New Zealand First political party.

Charging documents allege the pair deposited $746,881 between September 30, 2015 and February 14 this year with “intent to deceive the donors of the monies, the party secretary of the New Zealand First Party and/or the Electoral Commission”.

“The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem, whereby party donations for the party were paid into the bank accounts of [suppressed] and the New Zealand First Foundation and not notified to the party secretary, or declared by the party secretary to the Electoral Commission,” the court papers read.

“Those undeclared funds thereby became available to [suppressed]/New Zealand First Foundation to use as the defendants saw fit, and were used to pay expenses of the party and to develop a fundraising database for the benefit of the party and [suppressed].”

Before last month’s general election, the group of media companies unsuccessfully argued the duo should be named before voters entered the ballot box.

The NZ First Party had also attempted to stop the charges becoming public until after a government had been formed.

Peters has distanced himself from the foundation – reported to have bankrolled the political party – and has denied any wrongdoing after it first came under scrutiny last November.

After the charges became public, Peters claimed at a press conference that he and the party were “exonerated”.

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