Suspended New Zealand foreign minister to talk to fraud inquiry

Other News Materials 30 August 2008 03:13 (UTC +04:00)

New Zealand's suspended foreign minister Winston Peters was scheduled to meet fraud investigators on Saturday in a bid to clear his name after allegations that donations to his political party did not reach their intended destination. ( dpa )

Peters, 63, agreed to stand down from his post on Friday after calling the allegations "vile, malevolent, evil and wrong."

The Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into donations by millionaire benefactors to the nationalist New Zealand party, which Peters founded and led, saying there was evidence of "serious and complex fraud."

Prime Minister Helen Clark personally took over Peters' ministerial responsibilities, thereby sparing him "the humiliation of distributing his portfolios between more junior ministers," as Wellington's Dominion Post put it.

Clark said she hoped the investigation would be completed quickly and told reporters she would reappoint Peters to his posts if he was found innocent.

Peters' lawyer Peter Williams was quoted in newspapers Saturday as saying Clark had been shown documentation that would clear the suspended minister of wrongdoing within minutes.

Williams said Peters would cooperate fully with the Serious Fraud Office, which has special powers to subpoena documents and follow a paper trail.

The office's director Grant Liddell said the investigation had been launched because "The allegations concern important matters relating to the funding of a political party which go to the heart of the democratic process and involve a minister in the government."

It is not clear whether the inquiry would be completed before a general election, which has to be held by mid-November, though the government has not yet named the date.

Clark, whose Labour Party-led minority coalition has governed since 1999, will seek another three years in office but is trailing the main opposition conservative National Party badly in opinion polls.

Peters' New Zealand First party has supported the Labour administration since 2005 in return for his foreign affairs portfolio but stayed out of the formal coalition.