|Pacific Media Watch|
MP threatens to sue TVNZ for '$7 million'
Title -- 4456 NZ: MP threatens to sue TVNZ for '$7 million'
Date -- 24 June 2004
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- New Zealand Herald 24/6/2004
Copyright -- NZH
Status -- Unabridged
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PETERS SAYS HE WILL SUE TVNZ
WELLINGTON (NZ Herald Online/Pacific Media Watch): New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says he has instructed his lawyers to lodge a NZ$7 million damages claim against Television New Zealand.
The papers will be filed and served "as soon as possible", his office said in a statement.
Peters was also seeking legal advice about items carried by other media.
TVNZ head of news and current affairs Bill Ralston told NZPA that the state-owned broadcaster had yet to hear from lawyers acting from Peters.
"We have received no legal papers at all, we have only received press releases," he said.
"In the past Mr Peters has threatened to sue and we have never seen any papers, or any writ.
"We await with interest to see what does arise."
It appeared to be a long time since Peters had been to law school, Ralston said.
"Under current defamation law, you cannot specify the amount of damages."
TVNZ stood by its stories on the issue, he said.
"We will continue to follow this particular story as it unfolds."
Peters' lawyer, Brian Henry, could not be contacted this morning.
Serious allegations about the activities of New Zealand First policy adviser Ross Meurant have this week been swirling through Parliament.
Peters has been given until next week to comment to Speaker Jonathan Hunt on allegations levelled in an affidavit sworn by Yvonne Dossetter.
Dossetter is a former partner of Meurant, who resigned in February as a New Zealand First adviser.
ACT MP Ken Shirley used the protection of parliamentary privilege yesterday to make the contents of the legal document public.
Peters was not in Parliament yesterday. His office would not tell NZPA where he is, but said he was away on business.
NZPA understands he has gone to Rarotonga.
According to Shirley the affidavit says Meurant received $300,000 from Simunovich Fisheries, a key player in a parliamentary inquiry into scampi allocation.
In Parliament, Shirley said the affidavit referred to a meeting between Meurant and Simunovich Fisheries' bosses.
Peters was also there, he said.
"The proposal was put that the payment of $300,000 to Meurant would be a good investment for the Simunovich business," Shirley said.
"It is alleged that the deed was done and that the money would be available from an Australian bank account.
"Subsequently, it is alleged, Mr Meurant boasted to Yvonne Dossetter... that the money was paid and that Meurant indeed had it in a brown paper bag.
"This is an extremely serious allegation... and it does bring into question in the public's mind the functioning of our representative democracy."
Shirley told the Holmes show on TVNZ last night the allegations were serious, and it was important they were examined.
He would not discuss the contents of the affidavit outside the House.
Peters said yesterday he had also told his lawyers to take appropriate action against "Radio New Zealand and others".
Meurant, a former MP who also worked a lobbyist for Simunovich Fisheries, could not be contacted by NZPA yesterday.
A New Zealand First statement downplayed the importance of the affidavit.
"The legal advice that Mr Peters has received is that the so-called 'affidavit' would not make it into an episode of the Sopranos, let alone any court," his office said.
Simunovich Fisheries managing director Peter Simunovich "categorically denied" allegations in the affidavit.
"Any allegation that the company has acted inappropriately in relation to Mr Peters, or any politician for that matter, is without any foundation," he said.
Previous allegations of corrupt and illegal behaviour by the company had proved unfounded "and this latest allegation is no different", Simunovich said.
He also said he was considering legal action.
The affidavit went first to Green MP Ian Ewen-Street, who passed it on to National MP David Carter, chairman of the primary products committee which investigated the scampi quota system in which Simunovich Fisheries has an interest.
Carter said he felt the allegations were serious.
Meurant quit his part-time job with NZ First in February, after it was revealed he was working for Simunovich Fisheries and Peters.
At that time, there was a row about whether Peters had received a free meal at Kermadec, an Auckland restaurant co-owned by Simunovich.
Peters denied that, and said he had not been charged for a meal because he had been overcharged on a previous occasion.
When Carter raised that meal in an earlier privileges complaint, Hunt declined to send the issue to the privileges committee.
Hunt must assess whether Parliament's rules have been breached.
"I have to be satisfied that a prima facie breach has been made," he told National Radio.
"That is something that I will be doing on the basis of what is said to me by Mr Carter, and the response by Mr Peters."
Carter would have to prove a breach, he said.
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