John Banks is now a convicted criminal. Which is a good thing, but maybe not for the reason you think.

So the first line of John Banks' future obituary has now been written: "John Banks, former mayor of Auckland and a long serving MP and Minister for the National and Act Parties who was convicted of falsely reporting contributions to one of his campaigns, has died."

That, I think, is the true price that he has paid in court today, far above the two month period of community detention and 100 hours of community service imposed on him. And the fact he has now been convicted of the offence of knowingly transmitting a false return of election donations, following a guilty verdict back in June, is not surprising. Realistically, his chances of achieving a discharge without conviction were miniscule-to-zero - a fact that his lawyer obviously impressed on him, as Banks in the end decided not to even request this outcome. The fact that Justice Wylie then went beyond a mere fine and deemed the offending serious enough to warrant a quasi-custodial response - community detention means you have to be in your house for 12 hours a day - underscores this fact.

Sure, this conviction represents a huge fall from grace and Banks (whether you like him as a person or agree with his politics) has a lot of public service to his credit. But the nature of his offending goes right to the heart of that service. He was found guilty of (in effect) deliberately deceiving the public about where he was getting the money he used to campaign for their support. So it would be like a bank manager arguing that he shouldn't be convicted for stealing $50,000 from his employer because over the years he'd earned that employer millions. That just ain't going to fly.

That is why I'm glad to see this conviction entered and a reasonably severe penalty imposed (given that this was never going to result in imprisonment). I say that without any real sense of animus for Mr Banks - dancing on a grave is only forgivable if it's got a decent tune behind it. If electoral law is going to matter (and I'd say it should), then those who break it in a significant way have to be seen to pay a price. Any message that you can knowingly ignore the rules intended to create a fair, transparent and trusted electoral process without legal consequences would be a bad thing.

Having said all that, one thing still amazes me about all of this. Banks' fall from grace stems from knowingly hiding a donation to a campaign that he lost, from a donor who (whilst he since has become somewhat more notorious) wasn't particularly important or noteworthy at the time. All I can think is that he cooked up a scheme to hide Dotcom's identity in case he won (without perhaps even being conscious that what he was doing was unlawful - did he think he was still playing by the rules he was used to from the more unregulated days he spent in Parliament?), and then forgot to change things when he lost. Which is not to forgive or excuse Mr Banks ... but it just seems such a silly, silly way to end your career in disgrace.

Update

Following on from my closing observations, the NZ Herald is reporting Banks as saying:

"Since the finding of guilt fresh, new, unimpeachable, water-tight evidence has emerged. That new evidence completely contradicts much of the evidence given in the court in front of the judge on which I was convicted," Banks said.

"We're looking forward to taking that ... to the Court of Appeal and in the process of time, that will completely exonerate me of these charges."

So I guess the story ain't over 'till it is over, and maybe the oddity of Banks' story has yet another twist in its tail ... .

Comments (6)

by Richard on August 01, 2014
Richard

Having said all that, one thing still amazes me about all of this. Banks' fall from grace stems from knowingly hiding a donation to a campaign that he lost, from a donor who (whilst he since has become somewhat more notorious) wasn't particularly important or noteworthy at the time...

Well, perhaps variations on this sort of hiding of donations is so routine that Banks (and his campaign team) just engaged in it on auto-pilot. Afterall, no-one's been seriously caught out before, so what's the risk?

Which doesn't sound too implausible given what is known about the practices of National (and some other parties) around laundering donations through trusts, dinner "tickets", etc.

 

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 01, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Richard,

Maybe. Or, with reference to my update above, maybe the story the Judge heard and convicted Banks on wasn't the entire one ... .

by Andrew Osborn on August 01, 2014
Andrew Osborn

Ah so now we know why he refused to ask for 'guilty without conviction' - there's more in store.

 

 

by Rab McDowell on August 03, 2014
Rab McDowell

"Any message that you can knowingly ignore the rules intended to create a fair, transparent and trusted electoral process without legal consequences would be a bad thing."

I think I read that there had been around 50 complaints to the police about breaches of electoral law and none of tme have been taken to prosecution. If that is the case then the  'message that you can knowingly ignore the rules' has been out there loud and clear for some time.

by Dean Knight on August 04, 2014
Dean Knight

Yeah - but, on the fresh evidence point, I suspect Banks has an uphill battle. The law on fresh evidence as a basis for appeal is pretty strict and generally needs the evidence to be compelling and a king-hit  (as well as fresh etc etc). In this context, that seems unlikely?  

by felix marwick on August 05, 2014
felix marwick

Rab,

The figure's actually much higher. For the period 1 Jan 2011 to June 30 2014 113 breaches of electoral laws had been referred to police by the Electoral Commission for investigation.

None of them resulted in a prosecution

 

 

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