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John Banks regrets not being upfront about donations

Published: 5:58AM Tuesday May 01, 2012 Source: ONE News

An under-pressure John Banks says he regrets following legal advice he received last week to avoid answering questions about donations made to to his 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign.

Police are investigating claims that Banks knew about a donation from Kim Dotcom and a $15,000 donation from SkyCity to his 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign, but declared them as anonymous.

Dotcom claims he discussed the donation with Banks at his Auckland mansion, and later received a phone call thanking him for the money, despite Banks listing it on his 2010 mayoral return as two anonymous donations of $25,000 each.

Dotcom produced records of the two cheques for $25,000 he paid to Banks in June 2010 yesterday. Dotcom said Banks told him to split his donation into two payments.

Banks today reasserted he is "100% sure" he has nothing to fear or hide from an inquiry, but said he regretted taking a piece of legal advice not to say anything that might jeopardise a future inquiry into the scandal.

"That piece of legal advice, while I respect it, in hindsight I regret taking it," he said.  

Following the advice led to him not communicating his position clearly to the media in the past week. He said he understood if the public thought he had been hiding anything by not answering questions. 

"Consequently, when I had conversations with Mr (John) Campbell and Mr (Paul) Holmes, if I had quite specifically and quite easily answered all of those questions upfront, contrary to the legal advice, then I wouldn't find myself in this situation where people think I'm obfuscating."  

He said he had always been "absolutely upfront" with the media and the public and had never had any problems answering questions in "a very straight manner".

Banks admits lobbying for Dotcom

Banks also confirmed today he lobbied National minister Maurice Williamson last year regarding an application by Kim Dotcom to buy a luxury mansion near Auckland. 

The press secretary for Minister of Land Information Maurice Williamson confirmed to ONE News that Banks called to advocate on behalf of Dotcom over his application to buy a $30 million Coatesville mansion.

"He told me Kim Dotcom had funded a very large fireworks display for Auckland City and he hoped we would give it favourable consideration. I made it clear it didn't work that way, we had to go through a very careful statutory process, which we did," Williamson said.

Banks confirmed to media outside Parliament today that he had phoned Williamson to talk about the process of Dotcom's application to buy his homestead.

"I could see no reason why as a New Zealand resident you shouldn't be able to buy property here."

"He asked me for some advice, I said I would be prepared to help, I rang Maurice Williamson about it," Banks said.

Williamson approved the sale in April last year. However, it was eventually declined in July after being rejected by Associate Finance Minister Simon Power and Williamson because of Dotcom's previous criminal convictions.

Banks was not the Mayor of Auckland or an MP at the time, he pointed out. 

"I was a private citizen and I made the phone call and I would do it again."

The Prime Minister is refusing to stand Banks down despite allegations he failed to properly declare a Dotcom donation during his Auckland mayoral campaign in 2010, saying it is a legal issue not an ethical one.

"From my perspective I think it would be a very dangerous precedent to be sacking or standing down ministers if they haven't actually breached the law," Key said. 

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said that is a "total double standard".

"That wasn't the standard they used against Dover Samuels or David Parker, or Winston Peters, all of whom had inquiries and all three were exonerated by all those inquiries."

"I have nothing to fear and nothing to hide"

Banks said today he would like an inquiry so he can put the matter behind him.

"I hope the inquiry starts this afternoon, and I certainly hope it's concluded by the end of the week," he said. 

"I'm 100% sure that legally I have nothing to fear and nothing to hide."

Yesterday Banks maintained that he never called Dotcom to thank him for a $50,000 donation.

Banks has previously said he did not recall whether he made the phone call, but now says he never did. However he did have contact with Dotcom about "other matters".

Labour leader David Shearer told TV ONE's Breakfast today that Banks has been "downplaying his relationship with Dotcom".

"We know that he took a helicopter out to his mansion. I would have remembered that. John Banks has a problem remembering it."

Shearer said there is nothing inherently wrong with lobbying.

"But together with this entire saga it raises real questions about the transparency of what was really going on behind the scenes."