Police say no Boult election fraud but investigation hidden
A six-month police investigation into Mayor Jim Boult’s 2019 election expenses has ended with Police determining no evidence of electoral fraud but without telling the person who made the complaint.
The complaint was originally made to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) early last year and claimed Boult had failed to declare various election campaign costs including the use of a campaign manager who had a conflict of interest through tourism and Queenstown airport connections.
The conflict of interest and campaign manager claims centred on Mr Ian Jackson, the former CEO of the Wayfare Group, chaired by Mayor Boult. Mr Jackson also has a close personal connection to the Queenstown Airport Corporation.
Mr Boult has told Crux that Mr Jackson did not provide any paid services but characterises his involvement as one of a group of twelve family and friends who he met with three times during the campaign to “discuss how the campaign was going.”
The Serious Fraud Office contacts QLDC.
The anonymous complaint, made by a local resident using the name Joe Public (the email address includes “joe public wanaka”), told the SFO they needed anonymity to protect their family.
Crux was unaware of the case until contacted by Joe Public earlier this year saying they had heard nothing substantial from the SFO, Police, QLDC or the Electoral Commission – after over twelve months and over a hundred emails following the original complaint.
The SFO contacted the Queenstown Lakes District Council about the claims in April last year.
QLDC comms and marketing manager Naell Crosby-Roe wrote to Jim Boult on April 24th, 2020, saying the council was obliged to refer the matter to the police under Section 138 of the Local Electoral Act and requested a response from Mr Boult to be included in the referral to the Police
The Mayor replied six days later on council letterhead setting out his detailed response and saying that the Joe Public complaint was “a wild allegation with no basis in fact”.
In his letter of April 30th to QLDC, Mayor Boult said that another person (name removed by police) “took the role of arranging donations” and (detail/name removed by police) “took responsibility for banking these and for disbursement of funds for campaign expenses. I had no part in this whatsoever.”
The official campaign expenses return was signed in 2019 by Jim Boult and QLDC’s Electoral Officer Jane Robertson has confirmed to Crux that the person who signs the return (the candidate) is solely responsible for the declaration.
At the start of the April 30th letter to QLDC Mayor Boult also makes this introductory statement:
“I can assure you that I well underspent my budget of $20,000 (the legal limit) and in fact ended up having to return some of the money donated to me.”
Mr Boult declared zero donations to his campaign in his official return but is only obliged to do so if any individual donation is above $1,500.
At the end of the letter to QLDC’s Mr Crosby-Roe, Mr Boult adds:
“I note your comment regarding advice to councillors and beyond (media). I have now had the chance to take informal legal advice on this and am informed that there is no such requirement to do so. Should council consider that further notification is a requirement I will be taking formal legal advice and challenging any further disclosure.”
The Police Investigation.
After being approached by Joe Public, Crux enquiries using the Official Information Act have revealed that police determined there was no evidence of electoral fraud back in September 2020 when Queenstown Detective Sergeant Paul Slater wrote a final report to Detective Senior Sergeant Malcolm Inglis of Queenstown CIB saying “I see no evidence of electoral fraud in the disclosures made by Boult and the evidence gained. Without the identity of Joe Public being known I have not updated them to our findings.”
Not knowing that the case had been closed by Queenstown police in September/October 2020, Joe Public continued, on a regular basis, to contact senior police officers looking for information about progress of the investigation.
As recently as February 2nd, 2021, Joe Public emailed Miriam Chittenden, the Acting Area Commander for the Otago Lakes and Central Police District demanding some news on how the complaint was being handled and alleging that the police were “sitting on” the case and deliberately keeping him in the dark. He’d been told on November 12, 2020 by Miriam Chittenden that there was "no progress to report" and that the matter was "with police National Headquarters". This was three months after Queenstown police formally closed the case in September 2020.
Here’s the reply to Joe Public from Detective Senior Sergeant Chittenden on February 12, 2021, five months after the case was closed.
“Unfortunately I am no longer in the Acting Area Commander role and in addition to this I have no new information for you.
"I will forward this to the current Area Commander who can respond after they are back from leave later next week."
Source: Miriam Chittenden Area Response Manager Wanaka Police email. February 12, 2021
No reply was received. It was at this stage that Joe Public contacted Crux for help. It has taken us over two months to access the police investigation file under the Official Information Act.
Over 70 pages of police documents show that a number of allegations were raised about the Boult campaign by Joe Public.
- A full-page ad in the Wanaka Sun was not declared in Boult’s election expenses and not paid for.
- A well-known Wanaka PR consultant worked for the Boult campaign, but no fees were declared.
- Under-declaration of brochure printing, signage and distribution costs.
- Under-declaration of website and social media costs.
- Using a campaign manager linked to the Queenstown Airport Corporation and the Wayfare tourism group – with no cost or conflict of interest declared.
Mayor Boult has denied the claims although it was agreed with QLDC in April 2020 that the Wanaka Sun ad was missing from the election expenses return and Boult has confirmed to Crux (via his lawyers) that he met with a group of friends and family (including Ian Jackson) on three occasions to “discuss how the campaign was going. “ (Source: Anderson Lloyd – Lawyers acting for Mayor Jim Boult.)
Mayor Boult was only allowed to legally spend $20,000 (inc. GST) and his official 2019 return declared a total of $18,703.66 including GST
That Wanaka Sun Ad.
The full-page advertisement in the Wanaka Sun on October 3rd 2019 was not initially declared in the Boult election expenses return or paid for. The advertisement has a Wanaka Sun rate card value of $1,936.02 – including GST.
The cost is calculated using the Wanaka Sun official advertising rate of $6.50 per column centimetre. 7 columns (across) x 37cm (down) x $6.50 (per column cm) = full page rack rate in Sept/Oct 2019 would cost $1,683.50 plus GST or $1,936.02 including GST. All election expenses are declared as GST inclusive.
It was QLDC’s letter to Jim Boult on April 24th 2020 that first alerted the Boult team to the Joe Public allegations. Boult’s accountant said he was unaware of the Wanaka Sun ad but made enquiries and immediately made a payment to the Wanaka Sun.
The amount paid to the Wanaka Sun on that day was $1,149.70, based on the tax statement released by police under the OIA.
The owner of the Wanaka Sun, Aaron Heath then sent the following message to Jim Boult on 30 April 2020 explaining why he had not chased payment for the full-page ad.
“There apparently was not an email address to send for the advertisement Jessica (Maddock) organised.”
Mr Heath then says:
“I’ve been too busy/haven’t been too perturbed about chasing it up. Apologies for this especially given it may now mean amending your electoral return.”
Mr Heath did not respond to Crux questions this week asking why the tax statement was for a lower amount than the rate card value of the ad and why his company had not enforced payment of the outstanding invoice.
The new total for the Mayor’s campaign spend was now $19,853.36 – only $146 short of the legal $20,000 limit. Only the original return is published on the QLDC website. If the rate card value of the advertisement had been charged then the election spend would total $20,639.68 - $639.68 over the legal election limit.
Wanaka former Crux and RNZ journalist Jessica Maddock was paid $5,107.50 for “advertising” according to the official return but Mayor Boult denies using Wanaka PR consultant Celia Crosbie (as claimed by Joe Public) apart from “one or two calls”. (Source: Boult letter to QLDC, April 30th 2020).
Ms Crosbie replied to Crux enquires refusing to confirm or deny that she had worked on the Boult 2019 campaign in spite of a large number of social media posts that supported the Boult campaign.
Mr Boult has told Crux he did not employ Ms Crosbie and instead used Ms Maddock. Documents in the police file show that Ms Crosbie declined an offer by Mayor Boult to work on the campaign and did not provide work in a professional, paid capacity.
The Boult campaign obtained a refund of $2,513.90 on brochure delivery costs (due to poor service and not posting to “No Junk Mail” boxes) and Jim Boult’s 2016 mayoral campaign website was reused.
The Electoral Commission rules say that “recycled” items, including previous websites, need to be declared at their full cost for General Elections but QLDC’s Jane Robertson says the Local Electoral Act does not address this point and it is at the discretion of the candidate.
Under the Local Electoral Act, the use of free volunteer labour (such as putting up election signs) does not have to be declared but any material that becomes part of the campaign, even if produced by people who are not paid, has to be declared as having full market value. When asked for QLDC’s position on this issue of “free campaign advice”, we received the following reply from Electoral Officer Jane Robertson:
“QLDC does not have an official position on this; instead, it is the responsibility of the candidate to determine.”
The Local Electoral Act has some fairly severe penalties (both financial and jail terms) for various offences linked to the need for maintaining accurate campaign fund records, paying for expenses within a time limit, and not going over the $20,000 limit.
Crux asked senior police managers who we should approach for comment on the failure to inform Joe Public of the investigation progress or outcome – months after the case was closed – as well as questions relating to the cost of various newspaper advertisements, including the Wanaka Messenger.
Crux was advised to contact new Area Commander Inspector Paula Enoka. We did attempt contact Inspector Enoka (two emails on May 11, 2021) but have not received a reply to either email.
This is what the Local Electoral Act says about filing a false return:
112D Filing a false return of electoral donations and expenses.
A candidate who files a return under section 112A that is false in any material particular commits an offence and is liable on conviction—
(a) to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years, or a fine not exceeding $10,000, if he or she filed the return knowing it to be false in any material particular; or
(b) to a fine not exceeding $5,000 in any other case, unless the candidate proves that—
(i) he or she had no intention to misstate or conceal the facts; and
(ii) he or she took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure the information in the return was accurate.
Mayor Boult’s lawyers say that he had no intention to misstate or conceal the facts and took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure the information in the return was accurate. Mr Boult, his lawyers say, remedied the error relating to the Wanaka Sun once it was pointed out to him, and he had no intention to misstate or conceal the facts.
The complainant, Joe Public, now knows through Crux enquiries what became of his year long wait for a reply. It is still not clear why police consistently refused to tell Joe Public what had happened.
The extreme sensitivity of this issue is emphasised by the respective election results in Wanaka, compared to the entire district. Wanaka votes: Kiddle 2,795 votes vs. Jim Boult 1,573 – entire district votes Boult 6,175 vs Kiddle 3,999.
We asked Jim Boult’s mayoral campaign opponent Nik Kiddle who spent just $6,987.19 on his campaign, what his reaction was to the police investigation details.
“When I first read the mayor's electoral return I also wondered where all the social media work had got to, as it wasn't apparent on the return. But if he was permitted to use volunteers, then that could explain it. My own signage fees were higher, but I ordered the larger signs. My leaflet costs were for printing only as I did most of the mail box drops myself or had friends do it for me where I could. So again, difficult to compare.
And the Mayor's challenge to council officers to prevent councillors being informed appears odd if indeed there was nothing to hide. “
Nik Kiddle. 2019 Mayoral Candidate.