“They always seemed to be desperately short of money”. That’s how fishing magnate Sir Peter Talley described New Zealand First in evidence read to the High Court at Auckland on Monday.
Sir Peter is one of more than 40 donors whose evidence has been heard, or will be heard, during a trial underway at the court.
The Serious Fraud Office alleges two men, who have name suppression, used a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem to see money donated to the New Zealand First Foundation, rather than the party.
That money was not declared to the Electoral Commission.
Much of Monday's evidence was heard from former MP Clayton Mitchell, the first politician to give evidence.
He spoke of how he would solicit donations, sometimes giving out the bank account details of the foundation, other times the party.
He said he didn’t know the difference between the two.
It first dawned on him that there may be a difference, following media reports in late 2019.
At that point, a meeting was held between party elite and one of the defendants. He said that’s when he discovered the structure of the foundation was different to what he thought and it left him with trust issues and unanswered questions.
Over 40 donors, many of them racing industry or business elite, have been named in the court as donors.
Under Electoral law, donors names do not have to be publicly disclosed if the amount they give in any one donation is under $15,000. But suppression orders have not been granted for the donors in these proceedings.
Sir Peter and Talley’s gave small donations to the foundation at various times between 2017 and 2019.
In evidence read to the court, Sir Peter said: “There was no way would we want our names disclosed and splashed all around the newspapers, that we had paid money to a political party.
"People don’t like to be associated to NZ First or any other political party... they don't want to do that because once you do in this country, you get crucified.”
He said New Zealand First always “seemed to be desperately short of money so I would take the initiative and organise a dinner".
He said, as far as he was concerned, the money could be spent as the party saw fit. He was not aware of, and never told about, any difference between the foundation and the party.