New Zealand leader faces questions over alleged secret tapes

Wellington: Three months away from an election, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English is facing awkward questions about how he handled a lawmaker who is accused of making secret recordings.

English today released a statement he made last year to police, saying that lawmaker Todd Barclay told him he left a recording device running in his district office and captured criticism from a staffer.

Under New Zealand law, it is illegal to secretly record other people’s conversations. Police investigated Barclay, but the conservative lawmaker refused an interview and police said they closed the case due to insufficient evidence.

Barclay says he did nothing wrong. He told reporters earlier today that he was aware of the allegations and “totally refute them.” He didn’t immediately comment after English released his statement.

Barclay hasn’t faced any political sanctions. English was asked by reporters why he hadn’t censured his lawmaker.

“I told the police. The police conducted an investigation,” English said. “As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the matter. Now it’s a matter for Todd around the statements he might have made.”

English released his police statement after an investigation by the Newsroom website revealed he sent texts which formed part of the police investigation.

In those texts, English said Barclay had recorded staffer Glenys Dickson. He said that after Dickson quit, she’d been given a settlement that was larger than normal “because of the privacy breach” and that part of it had been paid for from the prime minister’s budget. “Everyone unhappy,” English wrote in one text, according to Newsroom.

English has declined to say how much Dickson was paid. Opposition leader Andrew Little said English’s previous comments about the case had been dismissive, and he seemed to be covering things up to protect Barclay.

“All that time he was, in fact, donkey deep in this scandal,” Little said in a statement.

Recent opinion polls indicate that English’s National Party remains the most popular party and English the preferred prime minister ahead of September’s nationwide elections.

Under New Zealand’s proportional voting system, larger parties typically form alliances with smaller parties to govern.