Winston Peters attacks Serious Fraud Office over timing of New Zealand First Foundation investigation outcome

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has attacked the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over its timing of revealing the outcome of an investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation.

The SFO announced on Tuesday it has charged two people in the New Zealand First Foundation over donations, and it has confirmed they are not sitting MPs, ministers or candidates.

"The SFO has filed a charge of 'Obtaining by Deception' against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September," it said in a statement on Tuesday. 

"The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party."

The Electoral Commission said in February it believed the New Zealand First Foundation had received donations which should have been treated as party donations and had referred the matter to police to investigate.

"In the commission's view, the donations were not properly transmitted to the party and not disclosed as required by the Electoral Act 1993," it said.

The police referred it to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on February 11 and a week later a formal investigation was launched.

But following Tuesday's announcement, Peters attacked the timing of the SFO's decision since it is less than a month until election day.

"It's an appalling intrusion in a period when the people begin to think seriously about the shape of their next Government," he said.

"It is quite shocking for any who believe in fair elections that the SFO, one day from overseas voting and four days from advance voting beginning, would interpose itself into the General Election in this poorly conceived fashion.

"The Foundation is an entirely separate entity from the New Zealand First Party but that distinction will be lost on some, and deliberately confused by others."

He said the timing of the SFO's decision constitutes a "James Comey-level error of judgement", referring to the former director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation who reopened an investigation into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's emails less than two weeks before the 2016 US election.

"It has been amply demonstrated that FBI Director Comey's groundless findings impacted on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign," Peters said.

Peters said proceedings have been issued against the SFO.

"The New Zealand First Party has instructed its lawyers to issue proceedings in the High Court against the Serious Fraud Office seeking declarations that the Serious Fraud Office has amounted to an abuse of its statutory powers and has been unreasonable."

He said he wouldn't comment further on the matter since it's now before the court.