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Prime Minister's name on Pullar support letter

Published: 7:05PM Thursday March 29, 2012 Source: ONE News

A letter leaked to TV ONE's Close Up draws a link between Prime Minister John Key and attempts by former National Party president Michelle Boag to persuade an insurance company to pay up $14 million.

It's the latest twist in a saga that started with Boag advocating for her friend and former National Party activist Bronwyn Pullar who suffered a head injury in 2002.

The letter, sent from Sovereign Insurance to Boag in 2007, was passed on to Close Up anonymously.

The letter names National Party heavyweights, including Key and former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, in an attempt to get more than $14 million to settle an income insurance claim by Boag's friend Bronwyn Pullar.

Sovereign says the claim was "greatly in excess of her entitlement''.

Boag and Pullar are close friends and have a long association through the National Party. Pullar helped Boag successfully campaign for the party's presidency.

The wider party links emerge in the leaked correspondence with Sovereign noting: "We have been supplied with a list of 28 named people who are members of Bronwyn's 'claims support/advisory team'.  This list includes prominent individuals such as Sir Selwyn Cushing, John Key, Jenny Shipley and Wayne Mapp."

At the time Key was National Party leader and in opposition.

After the resignation of minister Nick Smith for writing a letter in support of Pullar, the Prime Minister described his own relationship with Pullar as distant.

"I first met her when I came into politics in 2002. She was friends at that point with Michelle Boag and continues to be so," Key said at the time.

"I saw her at a few National Party events. For the life of me I can't remember seeing her ever since I've been a leader of the opposition, so it would be a good five or six years."

Claim 'wrong' - Key

Key issued a statement today saying he has not been involved in any "claims support" or "advisory team" for Pullar.

"The claim in the letter that I was part of such a team in 2007, or indeed any other time, is wrong."

Sir Selwyn told Close Up he had gone in to bat for Pullar and he said Sovereign's then chief executive conceded to him they had handled her claim badly.

The letter claims Wayne Mapp, who was an MP at the time, also had a meeting with Sovereign.

"I simply facilitated some meetings," Mapp told Close Up. "They were very professional and proper meetings and they ultimately led to a settlement."

Mapp says he does not know who put the list together.

"I've not seen this particular letter myself. What I did was assist Bronwyn, who was assisted by Michelle, for her to be able to get compensation for her injuries based on the insurance policy she was paying for."

Dame Jenny Shipley told Close Up she was not aware of any list and had not attended any meetings. She said she did not want to get drawn into it.

The Sovereign letter also addresses what it considers threats by Boag if it did not pay the multi-million dollar claim.

It states: "For nearly 18 months Bronwyn and her advisers, including yourself personally, have been saying to us that if we did not settle Bronwyn's claims against us in a way acceptable to Bronwyn that she would 'go to the media'. The inference we drew from this was that you would seek to obtain media coverage that would be detrimental to Sovereign."

Sovereign Insurance, which is now part of the ASB group of companies, eventually settled a lump-sum payment thought to be over $1 million.

Boag initially told Close Up she could not remember the letter and that she does not even remember writing to Sovereign herself.

When prompted about the list of prominent people, she said that was Sovereign's definition and she had never supplied any list.

On the issue of threats to go to the media, Boag said that was redundant as she had already at that stage talked to the media.

Pullar did not return Close Up's calls.

Renewed calls for inquiry

The Green Party says it is now "essential" an independent inquiry is held into the ongoing saga.

"This raises the question of whether John Key did declare his full involvement in this case," Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said in a statement tonight.
"It also raises the question of whether, in the conduct of his private investigation into Nick Smith's conflict of interest, he too had a conflict of interest.
"These are questions that only an independent inquiry can legitimately answer.

Key has ruled out an independent inquiry to look into potential conflicts of interest.
"If it is true that the Prime Minister has no knowledge of being named in the Sovereign letter, or that his support of Bronwyn Pullar was as he has previously described it, then he has nothing to fear from an independent inquiry," Norman said.
Otago University political scientist Bryce Edwards said with Mapp admitting he gave his consent for the letter, "there's a lot of smoke" and Key needs to front up.

"He has to answer a bit more than just saying 'oh I wasn't part of any team'," Edwards told Close Up

Edwards described the letter as a "remarkable insight" into how the New Zealand political class operates.

"It shows how people operate using their well connected friends to basically intimidate people. I think a lot of people will be astounded by this.

"There's nothing necessarily illegal about that but it does bring up a sense of legitimacy.

"Would the public see this as legitimate to use these connections. I don't think they would."