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Peters buoyed by donations ruling

Published: 8:16AM Friday October 24, 2008 Source: ONE News/NZPA

Winston Peters has been cleared by electoral watchdogs in the secret donations affair, knocking over yet another hurdle in his bid for political survival.

The Electoral Commission cleared New Zealand First of breaking the rules in not declaring a $80,000 donation.

The commission released its decision saying that while New Zealand First did not declare donations in 2005, 2006 and 2007 it was not asking for a prosecution.

"No offence committed by the Party Secretary (Anne Martin) in respect of the 2007 annual return," it said.

"New Zealand First is required to file amended returns and accompanying auditor's reports for the 2005 and 2006 years."

It did not release full findings, to avoid prejudicing a police investigation.

The party got an $80,000 donation from its Spencer Trust in 2007. It was the only year the commission could act on as the period for prosecutions expired on the other years.

Peters could barely contain his glee on the campaign trail on Friday. 

"We had all these allegations made against the party of a sinister nature. None of it was true," says Peters.

He was all smiles campaigning in Whakatane and says the allegations show "the ugly, seedy side of politics."

In an ironic twist, the man who brought the charges against New Zealand First, Act Party leader Rodney Hide, has been found guilty of breaking the electoral rules himself.

He is in trouble for not declaring office space in a Wellington building, that he got rent free from Sir Robert Jones, valued at around $20,000 a year.

It was a party donation and was not included in Act's annual returns of donations for the relevant years, the commission's decision said.

The commission has ordered Act to file amended party returns for the years it received free office space when its value was greater than $10,000 annually.

"We were told that we didn't need to declare it. They have now ruled that we should of and we will. So it's no big deal, I am not at all embarrassed," says Hide.

Peters says it's hypocrisy of the very worst sort. 

But Hide says the Electoral Commission ruling doesn't leave Peters blameless. 

"Winston Peters' sins in this are multiple."

And Peters has faced multiple inquiries. First he was censured by parliament's privileges committee, but now the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Electoral Commission have cleared him.

The SFO this month cleared NZ First after investigating two donations to the party.

It found the money was used for the purpose the donors - Sir Robert Jones and the Vela family - intended.

Peters was stood down from his foreign affairs and other portfolios while the SFO inquiry was carried out, and Prime Minister Helen Clark took over.

The last hurdle in the secret donations saga is a police inquiry after Hide laid a police complaint relating to NZ First's 2007 return.

But Peters is confident of declaring victory there too. 

And Peters has announced which charity has benefitted from New Zealand First's overspend from the last campaign.
 
The party overspent by $158,000 in the 2005 election..
 
Peters says he has donated $78,000 to the trust fund set up for Susan Couch, the only surviving victim of William Bell's murderous rampage at the Mount Wellington-Panmure RSA.

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