A certain blogger whose name need not be mentioned in polite company may have wounded Auckland's mayor. But "retired accountant" (amongst other things) Graham McCready has sunk a pretty big harpoon into the side of John Banks. Now, can he wriggle off it?
So, John Banks is going to a full trial on a charge that he knowingly filed a false return of his donations for the 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign by claiming as "anonymous" donations he full well knew the source of. This pretty much has to be his political life on the line, as a conviction would see him automatically expelled from Parliament (as the relevant charge carries a potential prison sentence of up to two years).
Sure, he could run for re-election at any subsequent by-election (or even at the 2014 general election). But given the legal point at issue, you'd have to think that a conviction would be the end of Banks' political career for good. Because in order for Banks to be convicted, a jury will have to conclude that he out-and-out lied about the cirumstances around the signing of his election return.
[I'm assuming that the trial will be a jury one, as the offence carries a potential penalty of two years in jail. If I'm wrong on that, I expect I'll get corrected pretty quickly (cough, cough ... Graeme Edgeler ... cough, cough).]
Here's why it all comes down to Banks' credibility. As I explained here and here at the time, John Banks couldn't claim on his return of election donations that the money from Dotcom and Sky City was "anonymous" in nature, as he in fact knew where (or rather, who) it had come from. So there is no doubt that the return of donations he provided was "false", insofar as this return said the donations were something that they were in fact (and law) not.
The key question, then, is whether Banks knew that the return contained these falsehoods when he signed it, or whether he signed off on it without knowledge of its actual content. Banks and his campaign assistant - who for some reason gets name suppression, quite why I'm not sure - say it was the latter. Here is how stuff.co.nz has reported the issue:
The man in charge of the campaign's finances, who has name suppression, said although Banks was the biggest contributor to the campaign, he had little to do with the finances.
"He was always kept at an arm's length from finances unless [the campaign] needed money," he said.
The man told the court that when he met with Banks so that he could sign the forms, Banks did not read them.
"He might have glanced at them but he didn't read them."
Now, if this story is true, then Banks hasn't committed the relevant offence, because he didn't have the requisite "knowledge" that the return was falsely calling donations "anonymous" when in fact (and law) they weren't. But is this story true? That's the key question.
Is it credible that, in spite of there being evidence that Banks personally solicited donations and told donors how to structure them so that he could declare them to be "anonymous", he would then sign off his declaration of donations without making any effort at all to check that it was accurate? Or, is this "I know nothink!" claim a story that has been concocted after the fact to try and provide legal cover for Banks?
It appears that Judge Phil Gittos thinks there's enough evidence available for a jury to decide that this latter scenario actually is the case. And so he's allowed the matter to proceed to a full trial, so that it can make the assessment for itself, after hearing from all the parties concerned.
Now we'll get to see what 12 of Banks' peers think of him. Is he a liar who knowingly sought to hide the source of the money he used for his election campaign despite it being illegal to do so? Or, is he just an incompetant person who signs official declarations without bothering to acquaint himself with their contents?