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Serious Fraud Office (3)

  • August 18th, 2008

Karen Scherer in the Herald does a great backgrounder for the debate and votes coming up this week on the Bill to absorb the SFO into the Police.

Simon Power correctly makes the point that this is another move with a constitutional impact.

"You are dealing with a fundamental constitutional change to the way we deal with fraud in New Zealand. At a time when finance companies are falling over at an alarming rate, it’s just irresponsible of the Government to try to force legislation like this through the House right before an election."

Our politics give off a Berlusconi odour if Winston Peters votes on this Bill at this time. If he wanted to set an example of integrity he would announce now that he will abstain from voting on this Bill. He is under investigation. He should not take part in dissolving the institution that could tell the truth about him, in favour of a body that, sadly, now commands less confidence when confronting political wrongdoing.

In September last year I said:

"There are grounds to suspect a culture of political cowardice at very senior Police levels. If there is not cowardice there is certainly political correctness that is a soft form of corruption or favouritism. Ask the woman whose court order was ignored by the Police who watched her husband’s stolen body being buried in breach of the order.

 Among other more sinister examples is the never explained Police failure to pursue Labour’s electoral frauds. I do not trust Police HQ. They unapologetically gave recklessly or deliberately untrue written answers to some of my Parliamentary questions.  

Parliament will find it much harder in future [after subordination of the SFO to the Police] to demand accountability for pursuing white collar crime. Police are rarely called upon to report to the Opposition in Parliament on the conduct of individual cases, the way the SFO has had to account. Statutory independence allows the NZ Police immunity from pursuit of decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute, even if there is widespread anxiety about corruption.

 We should not be concentrating all the nation’s investigative resources and expertise in one organisation. It would be insurance to keep an alternative centre that could be beefed up if a septic element in the Police culture can not be eradicated.

 There is a constitutional problem too. The SFO has been given extraordinary powers, and exemptions from normal rules that protect liberties from abuse of police powers (e.g. search and seizure, the power to compel evidence from people with no culpability). Some more offensive powers are in the Criminal Proceeds Bill. When the SFO is rolled into the Police it will be impossible to sequester those exceptions. No one will want to vote to remove them. Anti-fraud laws have been misused overseas. The US RICO (Racketeering and Corrupt Organisations) law has been used now in areas remote from what the legislators would have expected."

Scherer’s article makes the point that some of the powers have been blunted, while others are being spread across the Police. My fears were well-founded.


  • Jason
  • August 18th, 2008
  • 10:40 pm

Ah, Stephen, I don’t think the House sits this week. I think you mean next week.


Thank you

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