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Release On Behalf Of The Family of Dr Bill Sutch

Press Release on behalf of the family of Dr Bill Sutch

The family of Bill Sutch today welcomed the release of a New Zealand Security Intelligence Service file showing that there was no evidence of him being a spy for the Russians.

In 1974, after some meetings with a Russian diplomat, Dr. Sutch was charged under the Official Secrets Act with the offence of obtaining information that would be helpful to an enemy. He was acquitted at a trial in February 1975, and died in September the same year.

The SIS file on Dr William Ball (Bill) Sutch is due to be released on Friday June 6. Helen Sutch, daughter of Bill Sutch, said today the family was grateful to the Minister and Director of the SIS for their courtesy in giving them advance notice of the planned release of the file and its contents.

"On the basis of the SIS documents released, there was no evidence to convict him in 1974 and there is none now," she said. "Bill Sutch had a distinguished career in government service and made an immense contribution to the economic, intellectual and cultural life of New Zealand. Our family hopes that justice can now be done to that historic legacy, which has been overshadowed for so long by events in the last year of his life."

Research since 1975 has established that there was nothing of relevant interest in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), the FBI and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) files, and no mention of Dr. Sutch in the two published volumes of Mitrokhin files from Russia.

The released SIS file contained little new information about the events of 1974, but did reveal some disturbing aspects of the way the SIS was working at the time, Ms Sutch said.

"In reading the file, one can see how easily SIS assumptions, often based on uninformed, unattributed, and untested opinions, with little or no understanding of context, have been turned in the dark into "facts". At the same time, the openly expressed opinions and actions of others have been held against them and misinterpreted."

For instance, the file includes a long assessment written at that time which concludes with the remarkable assertion that Dr Sutch was effectively a spy, despite the fact that "during his 66 years we have accumulated six files on Sutch, and yet can prove nothing of which he is suspected." (Document 35.)

Misinterpretation and bias can also be seen in an unattributed report dated 16 January 1943 that looks back on the period in which Dr Sutch was working for J. G. Coates, a conservative Minister of Finance (1933-35). It states that "It was generally accepted as a fact that Sutch was in no small measure responsible for some of the more important legislation, much of it of a socialistic nature, passed between 1933 and 1935, in particular the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1933 and the Mortgage Corporation of New Zealand Act 1934." (Document 3.) The idea that the Reserve Bank Act is socialistic raises obvious questions about the writer, Ms Sutch said.

The SIS also released a declassified Top Secret Annex to the report by the then Chief Ombudsman Sir Guy Powles, covering his investigation into the NZSIS in 1976. This report made no judgement as to Dr Sutch's guilt or innocence but was strongly critical of SIS actions as unlawful.

Sir Guy Powles said that there were some aspects of the case which were "disturbing". Information had been obtained by breaking in to Dr Sutch's office and the tapping of his telephone which were "clear breaches of the law". The agency had a duty to comply with the law.

"If a security service acts in conflict with this view it acts in a manner which subverts the very values which it exists to protect".

Sir Guy also noted that the Service knowingly permitted the then Prime Minister to issue a press statement saying telephone tapping was not used in gathering evidence in the case, knowing this to be misleading.

He said the Service also gave the Prime Minister information which was "gravely misleading" as it implied that a person had supplied advance notice of meetings between Dr Sutch and Razgovorov whereas it had in fact obtained the information by breaking into Dr Sutch's office.

Dr Sutch was a major force in the establishment and scope of the United Nations International Children and Emergency Fund, (UNICEF) which subsequently won a Nobel prize for peace. In doing so he came into serious conflict with the US representatives, generating attitudes that seem to have had a strong influence on New Zealand's security services. Attitudes hardened during the Cold War, and the file shows that the SIS attempted to prevent Dr. Sutch's appointment as Secretary for Industries and Commerce, successfully in 1957 and unsuccessfully in 1958.

The family hopes that the release of the file signals a new period of openness and transparency in government. The current head of the Law Commission Sir Geoffrey Palmer has described the oppressive Official Secrets Act as legislation of "unrelenting severity and unreasonableness, containing "an ugly provision which cast the burden of proving innocence on the accused person". "Given the absence of evidence, that indeed could have been the only way the charge could be brought," Ms Sutch said.

Reaction to the trial helped lead to the repeal of this legislation in 1982. It was replaced by the Official Information Act, under which Dr. Sutch's file is now being released. The presumption of this Act is that information should be open unless a strong case can be made for its protection, for instance on grounds of privacy or commercial confidentiality.

Meanwhile the Security Intelligence Service has continued to operate in secrecy, influencing the lives and careers of New Zealanders who still have no way of knowing what has been said about them or checking the accuracy of the statements on SIS files, Ms Sutch said.

She called for greater access for all New Zealanders to their files, at least those files dating from the Cold War period. "The Cold War is long over, and the government should give consideration to opening all the Security Intelligence Service files from the Cold War to the people affected".

Also please see: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/Print_Essay.asp


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