New Zealand First Foundation case: Trial underway against two accused of electoral fraud

The Crown has begun its case against two people connected with New Zealand First accused of electoral fraud.

Forty donors sent around $750,000 to a private company and a trust, but prosecutors claim that two defendants used what's being described as a "fraudulent device, trick or stratagem" so as not to pass donations on to the party.

The duo have name suppression. They are not New Zealand First members, MPs, candidates, or Winston Peters, but are accused of defrauding the party between 2015 and 2020.

The prosecution said they knew the rules and deliberately chose not to follow them.

"Instead, they ran a scheme which kept the party secretary and the board of New Zealand First and by extension the Electoral Commission and the public very much in the dark about the extent of donations made to the party," said prosecutor Paul Wicks QC.

They're accused of putting money into the bank account of a business they hoped to use to create a database of donors, called Nation Builder.

But it ended up costing more than it made. 

The money also went to the New Zealand First Foundation whose coffers were also drained, much of it on New Zealand First campaigns, including a $10,000 appearance by Joseph Parker, but also on Nation Builder and paying for foundation staff.

In all, about three-quarters of $1 million never made it to the party.

The prosecution says party donors didn't know that they were actually giving money to the foundation and not the party, and it meant the defendants ended up controlling the money and spending it as they saw fit.

The defendants argue there's no real victim here.

"The SFO [Serious Fraud Office] after two years plus of investigating have found no evidence of a crime under the Electoral Act. None. At some point in time, they decided to look for any other crime they could fit into the facts," said defendants' lawyer Tudor Clee.

The trial is set down for six weeks.