PM's Presser: John Tamihere Vs Waipareia
Prime Minister's Post Cabinet Press Conference
John Tamihere Vs Waipareira Special
Facing a veritable deluge of questions relating to suspended Cabinet Minister John Tamihere, the Prime Minister played a straight bat to most questions yesterday. Using rock solid defensive techniques to anything too tricky, the PM even managed a couple of bold advances down the wicket to questions relating to the Sunday Star Times and it's coverage of the Tamihere affair.
John Tamihere Vs Waipareira Trust Backgrounder
The PM Plays A Straight Bat
TV3 Holds Report PM Hasn't Seen
Regarding whether the $195,000 payment was Koha
PM States Sunday Star Times Utterly Misleading
Of Scuttlebuts and Oozing Rumours
Mr Tamihere is at present catching up on quality family time as he awaits the outcome of an investigation into his tax affairs and a $195,000 payment he received after leaving the Waiparaeira Trust and becoming an MP in 1999. This payment came to light recently due to an investigation by TV3's Duncan Garner. Mr Tamihere had in July called for an audit of the Waipareira Trust after concerns had been raised with him about certain financial dealing.
Scoop understands the letter pictured below, calling for the audit, was sent using a fax header including a ministerial letterhead but that Mr Tamihere did not fax it personally. As can be seen this letter is not printed on ministerial letterhead.
Click for big version
Mr Tamihere's Letter Calling For An Audit
Mr Tamihere when calling for openness and accountability at the Trust was principally concerned with events following his departure. However the audit was subsequently widened by the trust to encompass his term as CEO in the late 1990s.
And somehow in the intervening months since Mr Tamihere's initial calls for an audit of the Trust, a number of documents containing allegations against Mr Tamihere have made their way from the audit into Duncan Garner at TV3's hands. Meanwhile ACT leader Rodney Hide also seems remarkably well acquainted with Mr Tamihere's time at the Waipareira Trust.
When Scoop contacted the Waipareira Trust in an attempt to get a copy of the full audit of the Trust some weeks ago we were informed that the full audit investigation, which evidently showed everything in order at the Trust, would not be publicly available for some time.
In the intervening weeks since the allegations about Mr Tamihere and his $195,000 alleged golden handshake first broke on TV3 news, both TV3 and ACT Leader Rodney Hide have continued to drip feed allegations concerning Mr Tamihere.
The most potentially damaging of these concern cheques made out to allegedly fictitious enterprises and amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Investigated by a private investigation company these payments have been passed on to the Serious Fraud Office for consideration. According to TV3 reports the cheques were cashed near the end of Mr Tamihere's period at the trust. These allegations also involve Mr Tamihere's previous electorate committee chairperson, Mike Tolich with whom, according to the National Business Review, Mr Tamihere owns several houses.
"All the matters around John Tamihere have gone to an inquiry and obviously I was away when the issues were first raised in the media so I'm simply suspending judgment and substantive comment and I look forward to being informed by a proper report."
"I don't want to get in to debating the substance of it. There is an inquiry set up which will look at all the issues in front of it."
Question: When did you first know about it?
"When TV3 first ran the item, although the rumour mill around Waipareira in recent months has talked about tax issues but rather un-specifically."
Question: How worried are you about the allegations made by [private investigation firm] Paragon about John Tamihere? [this concerns the allegedly bogus cheques.]
"Those are issues which obviously Mr White has been directed to look at, although if the matter is to go or has already gone to the Serious Fraud Office then I imagine he will note what he can factually about the fact of the report itself, but he probably won't be able to take it much further because of that other investigation going on.
Question: Would you be able to combine the results of the SFO inquiry with the White investigation?
"My observation would be that the SFO doesn't have that task."
Duncan Garner (TV3) Question: Have you read the Paragon Report?
"I haven't seen the Paragon Report. I'd be delighted if you'd deliver a copy to my office . It'd make it easier to get hold of it!"
"I'm not interested in ifs – I'm not interested in hypothetical questions… I've suspended judgment and comment until I have more information." [This line was used repeatedly to questions regarding Mr Tamihere's future]
Question: How does all this affect your Cabinet re-shuffle?
"Not at all."
Regarding whether or not Mr Tamihere should repay all or some of the $195,000.
"At this point they are no more than suggestions on the front page of the Dominion. I haven't made that suggestion to him."
Question: Will Mr Tamihere return to Parliament this week?
"I don't believe so, no."
"I advised him [Mr Tamihere] that there were rumours around but I had the same response I've always had [From Mr Tamihere] which is that he believes there is nothing in his past which he believes will cause him embarrassment."
"I'm not commenting on Koha – I don't want to get into that particular cultural debate."
"He said there was nothing in his past which would cause embarrassment, and as far as he [Mr Tamihere] was concerned there weren't any tax issues which would cause any embarrassment."
"I really can't re-call what the rumour was [saying] about the tax. It was something that flicked in and out of my head at the time. As far as I am concerned, if I ask someone if there's a problem and there's not a problem, I accept that."
In a recent article by John Tamihere's previous Press secretary and Co-author of his autobiography Black and White, Helen Bain - now the Sunday Star-Times Political Editor - delved into the background of the allegations into Mr Tamihere's current crisis. In the article there was a paragraph concerning trouble at Waipareira some five years ago:
"Allegations over Waipareira were first levelled against Tamihere five years ago, shortly after he was elected to parliament. The prime minister's office, the Serious Fraud Office, police, the Audit Office and the Maori affairs select committee held investigations, but found nothing serious enough to cost Tamihere his seat. The weka remained safe. "
Question: Can we just be clear though – in your own departments inquiries into the Waipareira Trust did not reveal that payment had been made?
"The inquiry was of course about something completely different and I've seen some utterly mis-leading material in the Sunday Star-Times. That inquiry was to look at contractual relationships the Waipareira Trust had with Government departments. And it looked specifically at the relationship between Waipariera and the Department of Work and Income, Skill New Zealand, the Department of Corrections etc. It was not an inquiry about Mr Tamihere."
Question regarding when the Prime Minister first became aware of the rumours surrounding Mr Tamihere and prior to TV3's piece.
"I can assure you as Prime Minister there probably isn't a week or two go by when someone doesn't ring with some bit of scuttlebutt about somebody somewhere."
"I have a report that has been commissioned at some public expense and I will be in a position to make an overall judgment when I have more information."
Question regarding whether the Maori Party was behind the allegations against Mr Tamihere.
"I've no idea what is going on in the world of the Waipareira Trust."
Question: How did the rumours come about?
"Just sort of broadly oozing out of the Waipareira Trust, as they've oozed for many years now."
"Do I feel embarrassed? No, not at all. As far as I'm concerned a Minister has quite properly asked to be stood aside. An inquiry has been set up and I await the outcome."
The tollowing answer relates to a question regarding how Mr Tamihere is able to keep up to date with important matters of state such as the Foreshore and Seabed Bill
"Phone conference with other members of Labour's Maori caucus."