Six people facing fraud charges over Labour Party donations given interim name suppression

Auckland District Court.
Auckland District Court. Photo credit: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

By Katie Scotcher for RNZ

The six people facing Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charges over a donation made to the Labour Party will keep their names secret - for now.

They were charged by the agency earlier this month following an investigation launched last year.

The defendants appeared before Judge Brooke Gibson at the Auckland District Court on Monday morning, their first appearance, where a large media contingent was present.

The six people are accused of trying to conceal the true identity of the donor who paid at least $34,840 to the Labour Party in 2017.

Each defendant is facing two charges of obtaining the donation "by deception".

Documents previously released by the Auckland High Court alleged the group adopted a "fraudulent device, trick or stratagem" so as to conceal the full amount of the donation and identity of the donor.

The SFO claimed the donation was paid via an intermediary account before being paid to, and retained by, Labour.

It also claimed the defendants provided five names to "create the illusion" of five separate donations, each below the disclosure limit of $15,000.

As a result, the group allowed the true donor "freedom from any public scrutiny", the SFO said.

The SFO has already confirmed none of the individuals are sitting MPs, or current or former Labour officials.

Judge Gibson granted all defendants interim name suppression at Monday's hearing.

The defendants will next appear at the Auckland District Court on June 14.

When the defendants were charged earlier this month, Labour Party general secretary Rob Salmond said in a statement the party "has complied with the law".

The party had not sought any suppression orders, he said.

Former MP Jami-Lee Ross and three businessmen are due to go to trial at the High Court in September over donations to the National Party.

They were charged in January 2020 with obtaining by deception. They all pleaded not guilty on February 25.

The SFO also laid charges against two people in September last year, regarding the handling of donations to the New Zealand First Foundation.

The individuals - who have interim name suppression - are expected to stand trial in June next year. They are accused of obtaining by deception in relation to $700,000 in donations made to the Foundation between 2015 and 2020.

The SFO is also considering whether to investigate donations to the Māori Party last year after being referred the matter by police.