New Zealand

Donor says he and Billy Te Kahika drifted apart: ‘I didn’t give him more money’

An anti Covid-19 vaccine mandate campaigner says he handed envelopes of cash to Billy Te Kahika in the lead up to the 2020 election, in the belief the money would be spent on billboards and advertising.

But Michael Kelly has told the Auckland District Court that months after the election he checked the Electoral Commission website and found Te Kahika had failed to disclose the $10,000 and $5000 he had handed the failed politician.

William “Billy” Te Kahika, the former co-leader of the Advance New Zealand political party, is on trial and has denied two charges of obtaining by deception, four of filing a false return and two of failing to retain electoral finance records.

Kelly told the court on Monday that he and his wife were “concerned” about vaccine mandates and organised for Te Kahika and Jami-Lee Ross to speak at a public event in central Auckland that attracted about 150 people in July 2020.

Jami-Lee Ross arriving at the High Court at Auckland.

Ricky Wilson/Stuff

Jami-Lee Ross arriving at the High Court at Auckland.

A koha or donation box was passed around.

Kelly said he met Te Kahika at the event where the musician spoke for about an hour.

As the event wound down, Kelly said he approached Te Kahika and quietly handed him an envelope and said “this is for your campaign.”

Kelly said the envelope had $10,000 worth of $100 notes inside and had “Billy/ NZPP” written on the front.

Kelly said, later on, Te Kahika said the money would let him buy some billboards that he needed.

“I remember him being very excited… because he needed these billboards to be elected.”

About five days later he got a text message from Te Kahika, addressing him as “brother Michael” and announcing he had bought new billboards. A photo attached showed Te Kahika standing beside two billboards.

“I felt strongly, it inferred the money had been used for these signs, why else would he send that to me?”

Days passed before Te Kahika was back in touch. “I felt it was probably because he had spent the money and he wanted some more.”

Te Kahika said he wanted his wife and children to meet Kelly and his wife.

During the meeting Kelly said he told Te Kahika he “needed proof” that the money had been spent on billboards. Kelly said Te Kahika showed him an email chain between of communication with a printer.

“I asked if he needed more billboards. He said he did, so I went to the safe and got $5000 out… He left fairly soon afterwards, once the money had passed to him.”

Kelly went on to become party chair. “I presume because I was a large donor.”

“He would phone me up and ask for my opinion and I would give him some advice which he would seldom follow, that’s ok, he’s a strong-minded individual… We slowly drifted apart, just because I didn’t give him more money.”

After the election where the party failed to win a seat, Kelly logged on to the Electoral Commission website. “The donations hadn’t been documented, and I thought… it was disappointing.”

He approached the Commission.

Te Kahika responded by taking to social media and posting videos where he alleged Kelly was “the founder of Voices for Freedom” and that he had handed the cash over as a personal gift to “feed my family”.

One of the videos shows Te Kahika standing in front of a protest banner that reads: “I do not comply”.

“This is how low the man is and why am I disclosing this to you? Because the shame of this rests with Michael Kelly.”

He accused Kelly of lying to the Commission.

The Crown prosecutor Joanne Lee asked why he had given Te Kahika money.

“I supported a party that would go against the vaccine mandates which I was concerned about. At the time I gave him the money, I didn’t own a house. I was working 7 days a week. That money was important for a cause – not to feed someone else.”

Defence lawyer Paul Borich KC. (File pic)

ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/Stuff

Defence lawyer Paul Borich KC. (File pic)

Under cross-examination from Te Kahika’s lawyer, Paul Borich KC, Kelly confirmed he had passed the cash to Te Kahika “on the quiet”.

“I just don’t like making a big show of things. I don’t like to be known.”

He also confirmed he had deleted messages from Te Kahika before handing his phone to the police.

Kelly said that was because Te Kahika left “an angry message” and he didn’t see the other messages as relevant.

Borich will continue cross-examining Kelly on Tuesday.

Earlier, the jurors heard an opening address from the Crown prosecutor Joanne Lee.

She said Te Kahika had four cracks at filing a return. Each contained differing amounts but none of his paperwork mentioned Kelly or the total of $15,000 Kelly had donated.

Lee said the requirements of publicly notifying donations over $1500 was an important aspect of a transparent democracy – it allowed the public to see who was donating and to whom.

When the Electoral Commission asked Te Kahika for his paperwork, Te Kahika could not provide anything for the Kelly money, save an explanation that the money was “for a koha” – not political campaign money – but “a gift for his family”.

Te Kahika’s lawyer Paul Borich KC said the defence to the charges was “simple”. The money was not for political purposes but, instead, it was a personal gift.

“It was given in cash, it was given on the quiet.”

Borich said Kelly’s complaint only came after the “falling out”.

Borich said the complaint “was payback” and motivated by vengeance. He described Kelly’s complaint as an effort to re-write history.

The trial, before Judge Kathryn Davenport and a jury, has been set down for four days and is due to hear evidence from five witnesses.

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