D-Day for New Zealand foreign minister over political donation

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters was facing the battle of his political life on Wednesday after an expatriate billionaire benefactor gave damning testimony to Parliament's powerful privileges committee, reported dpa.

Owen Glenn, who lives in Monaco, flew home to tell the committee on Tuesday that Peters personally asked him for money to help pay legal fees after the 2005 general election and he donated 100,000 New Zealand dollars (about 66,000 US dollars).

His testimony directly contradicted Peters, who has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the donation - which was not declared as it should have been under parliamentary rules - since it was first revealed by a newspaper in February.

Prime Minister Helen Clark, who has accepted her minister's denial so far, said Glenn's evidence was "quite disturbing" and she awaited Peters' right of reply that he was scheduled to give the committee on Wednesday evening.

Clark revealed recently that Glenn had told her about the donation in February but accepted Peters' denial "as an honourable Member of Parliament" and said she believed there must be an "innocent explanation" of the conflicting claims.

With Wellington's Dominion Post headlining its front page, "PM poised to axe Peters," Clark said, "I don't really want to speculate on any particular course of action at this point but just to say we're watching it extremely carefully."

Peters, who leads the nationalist New Zealand First party, which supports Clark's Labour-led administration while staying outside the formal coalition, has stepped down as foreign minister while the committee conducts its inquiry into the donation.

In his testimony, Glenn produced a telephone record showing that he had called Peters' personal mobile telephone on December 14, 2005 to tell him that he would contribute the money, and a copy of an email from Peters' attorney timed six minutes later confirming "your conversation with my client" and giving details of the account to which to send the money.

Glenn also produced an affidavit from racehorse trainer Paul Moroney saying he was present at a bloodstock sale in January 2006 when Peters thanked Glenn for the donation.

Peters has insisted that he knew nothing about Glenn's donation until his lawyer told him about it in July, saying it had gone into a blind trust fund in July.

Peters, 63, is a veteran populist politician who has built his career on claims that he was independent of big business and, unlike the main political parties, did not accept large donations from wealthy benefactors.

He is also subject to separate investigations about donations to his party by the Senior Fraud Office and the police.

Glenn, 68, has been a major benefactor of the Labour Party in the past, but is clearly disenchanted with politicians now.

"I wouldn't want any of them in the trenches next to me because they'd push you out first," he told a television interviewer.

Commentators said the row has done nothing to help Clark, who has headed minority governments since 1999 and must hold a general election by mid-November, which current polls say she is certain to lose.

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