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Key says Ken Whitney's email to Todd McClay saying Key thought there was no plans to change foreign trust regime was "sloppily written"; Key repeats knew nothing of review plan; says often approached by public in person; cites Koru lounge as example

Key says Ken Whitney's email to Todd McClay saying Key thought there was no plans to change foreign trust regime was "sloppily written"; Key repeats knew nothing of review plan; says often approached by public in person; cites Koru lounge as example

By Bernard Hickey

Prime Minister John Key has said his personal lawyer, Ken Whitney, has agreed with the Prime Minister's version of a conversation in late 2014 that ultimately led to a successful lobbying effort by the foreign trust industry to prevent an IRD review of the industry.

Key has said he told Whitney that he knew nothing of review that was proposed and published by IRD in November 2014 and was reported on in late November by the New Zealand Herald. Key said he had told Whitney to approach then Revenue Minister Todd McClay to discuss the issue and has repeated that he knew nothing of the review or the New Zealand Herald report.

Whitney then wrote an email to McClay requesting a meeting which said he had "spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised that the Government has no current plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime in New Zealand." See our previous coverage of Whitney's lobbying.

The slightly different version of the conversation has become a point of contention over whether Whitney had used his personal connection to Key to influence McClay, and whether Whitney mis-represented Key's knowledge about the review. Whitney's email suggests Key had a firm view that any review would not result in a change in the status of the industry, but Key denies this and has characterised it as a 'mis-representation' of the conversation, albeit accidental as a result of a 'sloppily written' email.

Key told reporters in Parliament on Tuesday that he had since spoken to Whitney who had agreed with Key's version and that Key thought the email had been "sloppily written."

"He is absolutely confident that my version of events is correct and that's what he attempted to write in the email," Key said.

"It may be the email was sloppily written if that was the case, but that was absolutely right. I was not aware either of the changes that were there. I was certainly aware that we weren't making any changes because I would have known about them, because I would have seen the work, and I hadn't seen any work. But outside of them, I sent him off to the minister," Key said.

"In the end, you know, people write things in a way which is sometimes shorthand," he said when asked how a trained lawyer could write an email sloppily.

'I'm open and talk to Koru lounge members all the time'

Key was then asked if he was concerned about perceptions of vested interests having special access to the Prime Minister to exert influence.

"No, I am not concerned about that. Look, we are very accessible and that includes being out and about in the community pretty much every day that we are not in Parliament or overseas. That also means that I make sure I am out there," Key said.

"If I go to the Koru Lounge, for instance, I don't sit off away in the corner. I stand out in the middle, people come up to me from all works of life every single day," he said.

"There is nothing precluding anyone, just because I know them, asking me a question. I don't live in a test tube and people do come up and do that. I don't wear a sign that says 'don't ask me a question'. What I do is thoroughly professional, which is to say 'I am not aware of any changes' but then 'your industry group needs to go and talk to the minister'. They went and did that. That happens again pretty much every day."

Key confirmed that he had spoken to McClay soon after being approached by Whitney.

"I said to him I had been approached by my lawyer, as part of an industry group, that I had told him that I wasn't aware of any changes and I sent them in his direction," Key said.

Key has spoken to Whitney

Key confirmed that he had spoken to Whitney in recent days. Whitney has not responded to reporters' queries.

Key was then asked how he had contacted Whitney, as media had been told he was uncontactable.

"Oh, I can always get hold of people that look after me," Key said.

McClay later told other media that he was not sure if he knew that Whitney was Key's lawyer at the time he received the email. Key later told reporters he was sure he had told McLay that Whitney was his lawyer.

Opposition comments

Grant Robertson called on Key to be more open, given Key had initially not disclosed to journalists that Whitney was the member of the public who had approached him in 2014.

"There is no way Todd McClay would not have felt pressure from above. That’s shown by the impressive speed with which Ken Whitney and his lobby group got a meeting with the Minister," he said.

(Updated with links to exchanges in Parliament on foreign trusts issue, detail from McLay and Key's follow-up)

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Perhaps his "lawyer" should consider keeping work related communications professional. Not an unreasonable ask.


So a lawyer, someone you'd expect knows what they mean when they say/type it, writes an email that appears to be pretty clear in its content and what the prime minister's view is. When that's email is found, the PM goes back to his lawyer and says, no no no, what you meant to say is what I'm telling you now, remember?

I couldn't really give a sh!t but it certainly seems suss...

Like Kim Philby said, "deny everything".


"I'm open and talk to Koru lounge members all the time"

Koru Lounge memebrs, huh... A real man of the people, then.


LOL "people from all walks of life approach me in the koru lounge" he has lost touch for real with middle NZ

When I hold the Illuminati meetings he talks to everyone there as well.

More seriously Koru lounge is either business travellers, people that pay via credit card deals or people that pay too much for their flights. That's a very stratified segment of society.

Knowing when to keep your trap shut

On NewsTalkZB there is currently a radio advert that goes like this

Young guy meets girlfriends parents for the first time

YG: Hello Mrs Brown - very nice to meet you

YG: Hello Mr Brown - gee Mr Brown, you remind me of my parole officer


So he is the leader of the government and he doesn't know what his ministers are doing in a sector for which he has previously displayed a lot of enthusiasm. Really? Which is it? Incompetent or dishonest?

"Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory" - Bernard Ingham

So you are opting for incompetent.

They can certainly manage incompetent and dishonest. Might not be able to chew gum whilst screwing things up and lying about it, though.


Like his Trust,Key has also become blind,


I wonder what his lawyer thinks of all of this. The expression ' thrown under a bus' comes to mind.

plenty under there, will have to ask the minister of IRD to move over

I wonder what his lawyer thinks of all of this. The expression ' thrown under a bus' comes to mind.

All this time, and that's the best story they can come up with?

JK famous comment.........we will have to wait and see

Wait and see about the Auckland housing market......May 2015................wait and see about taxing the multinationals companys............really needs to be a combined effort..................aussie takes action............we will wait and see how it goes in Aussie...........come on JK

He's been quick in cancelling the kiwisaver grand though. Also raising gst he's been quick. I guess Koru people already had a kiwisaver account


Strangely when these things blow up Key usually obfuscates, cant remember the exact details, long time ago, sort of thing. This time his recollection is so crystal clear he can correct his lawyers written record of their conversation.

yes strangely its the minister that can not remember, nice job by the speaker running interference he is so not impartial he might as well wear his national party hat at question time, knighthood on the way I suspect.
now I know why they shunted lockwood on, he would not have put up with non answers

Should not the lawyer be charged for misleading the Minister ?

It will never happen.

Should not the Minister have checked back with the PM after receiving the email ?

How come the minister did not report back to Cabinet?

Imagine being in Key's position and having to make up BS two or three times a week. Must be very tiring.

The kickbacks are obviously worth it

0800lawyer apparently... or is that 0900? Fantastic response from a Great Leader who will be remembered in the annals of history.

You incorrectly spelt Annals. Add a 'U' somewhere in the word.

Apparently moa man this is how it goes - fill your boots.

Just in case...
a record of the events of one year.
"the annal for 1032"
a record of one item in a chronicle.
"an annal recording Nothhelm's assistance to Ine in his war with Geraint"


Still haven't got it have you. Never Mind Zed. Enjoy the ride.


Is it bad that as a citizen of NZ, that I have more faith in Vladimir Putin to speak the truth than I do in our own Prime Minister?

Every dog has it's day. Every politician is just a politician. All have strength and weakness. They listen to whoever last breathed in their ear.

Wait and See PM

We all know what's happening here (and long may it continue).
Change is scary and risky.
Who needs policy?

Best advertisement for Koru Club ever.....

I have conversation and contact averaging about monthly with various Cabinet ministers including John Key. One thing that is quite true is they experience consistent suggestions about what should be done or not done. And all are very skilled at dealing with those conversations which are often impromptu. It's a great country that almost anybody who wants that, can have that level of access.
(disclaimer: I don't want Foreign Trusts at all in NZ, and I am not a Key fan)

By way of comparison, someone with sensitive sensibilities plus access to the corridors of power was able to obtain "immediate action" on "wicked campers" vans and impose fines of $200,000 for each and any infringements

Was that you?

Goes to show what government can do when it doesn't involve one of its constituents

Access is welcome, but creating or entertaining an atmosphere where these impromptu conversations could be used to mislead and influence other policy makers ? And then the spin on 'sloppy emails' and all that....Then the access becomes more than just that..

So Smokey would you prefer that we have controlled speech in NZ?

KH - you can make the decision for yourself not to have a foreign trust or not that is entirely up to you want to enforce what you want on other people and in doing so not allow them freedom of choice.

Taxation is nothing but theft and no one seems to bat an eyelid at this theft in fact most people make excuses that it is OK to openly steal other people's property.......

LOL. Yes I would restrict the freedom of choice of people who want to use New Zealand to hide stolen money and evade their responsibilities. And yes, I would not give freedom to dirtying the name of our country at the same time. And yes, I would not give freedom to New Zealanders making an industry out of corruption in other countries, and possibly our own.

Well you had better get your head around one rule for all because in restricting freedom we have tax which is money that is stolen from others......and if you don't have a free country you have controlled country and that is very dirty don't you think??? You are inadvertently promoting legalised corruption n demanding that NZ'er's have their freedoms removed.......

I'm starting to think this Whitney fella deserves some accolades for his work in stopping theft of private assets.

Now please listen here.
I vill say this only once. ('Allo, 'Allo)
"Nothing is ever Key's fault"

the gift that keeps giving if JK says this we know his standards are not that high after all
The Prime Minister has previously defended Mr Whitney's connection with the trust industry saying his personal lawyer's conduct was "highly ethical".

Key takes nothing from NZ....he doesn't even take his PM salary.......he damn well gives back the most out of any politician in is rather a cheap to say his standards are not high given the standards employed by opposition and other left leaning whinging people who have sheltered themselves using theft via a taxation system....

The whole system is everyone shelters is not ethical but I haven't seen you write about that.

Urban myth about JK donating his salary:
"So I promised to find out about john keys 400 k plus salary and how much of it goes to charity. After talking to a person from his office here is the best info I can get. His pay goes into his bank account. He does give money to charity but doesn't keep detailed records of how much. He doesn't want to say what charities or provide a ballpark figure of what proportion of his pm pay he gives. In other words the oft claimed fact that john key gives most of, or all of his salary to charity has no basis in fact. Urban myth!!!"
Sean Plunket

Yes sloppy alright. He should have covered his tracks much more carefully.

is somebody getting ready to move on , maybe more to come out that we know

Days to the General Election: 22
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.