Former Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley turned the guns on Judith Collins during an inquiry to discover if his former minister had tried to undermine him.
Collins, National’s Papakura MP, resigned as justice minister just weeks before last year’s general election following revelations blogger Cameron Slater had written in October 2011 that she had been “gunning for Feeley” while police minister.
The subsequent investigation, headed by former judge Lester Chisholm, found no evidence Collins was involved in a PR campaign to undermine Feeley – a campaign apparently bankrolled by ex-Hanover Finance director Mark Hotchin.
A transcript of Feeley’s interview with the Chisholm inquiry, released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday, reveals his concerns over a possible “wider involvement” in the attack campaign – beyond that of disgruntled former staff.
Feeley, now chief executive at the Queenstown Lakes District Council, thought the then police minister “overreacted” to a story in October 2011 about SFO staff drinking from a Champagne bottle from Bridgecorp’s office to celebrate charges being laid against some former directors of the failed finance company.
The State Services Commission (SSC) later cleared Mr Feeley of misconduct but he apologised for “ill-advised” conduct.
Collins refused to express confidence in the SFO boss during the incident, a public stance which, Feeley said, put her at odds with Prime Minister John Key – who dismissed it as “storm in a Champagne flute” – and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.
Given those circumstances, Feeley told the Chisholm inquiry: “I am keenly interested in the commission determining whether there is any substance to the email by Cameron Slater on 5 October that the minister was seeking further adverse information to justify her initial action to seek a SSC ‘investigation’.”
Labour called the Chisholm inquiry report a whitewash but according to The New Zealand Herald Collins took it as exoneration.
Feeley told the inquiry he would be “deeply concerned” if it was found Hotchin financed the PR campaign.
The SFO investigated Hanover but did not lay charges.
Yesterday, the Financial Markets Authority announced an $18 million settlement with Hanover’s former promoters and directors.
The Chisholm inquiry transcript reveals Feeley’s concerns over two incidents involving Collins’ office in late 2011.
First, the speed with which his emailed apology to the minister, written from his home computer, had been reported in the media – and the fact he was not advised of a request for it.
Second, an intervention by the minister’s office over an official information request.
His office suggested redactions to documents but the minister’s office released them in full.
Feeley told Chisholm he had “not expected the level of reaction by the minister” over the Champagne bottle incident.
He called the period of ministerial silence “without doubt, the loneliest three weeks of my life”.
Feeley could not be reached for comment.
Collins’ press secretary Rachael Bowie said yesterday: “Judith stands by all her previous comments on this issue and has nothing further to add.”