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  • Ex-govt lawyer told to bury bad news




    A former high-ranking Customs lawyer says he resigned from his job after allegedly being told to bury information that could embarrass the Government.
    Curtis Gregorash said he was told by senior Customs executives to refuse Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests, which he believed was at the direction of former Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.

    It comes at a time the Prime Minister's office is under inquiry over the release of intelligence material through the OIA and accusations that former Justice Minister Judith Collins was manipulating OIA responses for political purposes.

    Mr Williamson - who resigned as a minister in May after contacting police over a National party donor who was facing domestic violence charges - rejected the claim last night, as did the legal services chief at Customs.

    Mr Gregorash quit his role as Customs' chief legal counsel in March this year after more than a decade as a government lawyer.
    The lawyer turned whistleblower said: "I've sat on it for a long time. But the story itself is so awful it needs to be told. I think people really need to see what ministers and some senior executives do."

    He had decided to speak because he believed the alleged instruction "was unlawful", undermined the way the public service was meant to operate and was given for what was ultimately political reasons.

    "The direction came down (from the minister) through the CEO (Carolyn Tremain) and group manager (of legal services) Peter Taylor to me saying 'you don't release anything - I don't care what the OIA says, I'd rather fight it in the courts'."

    Mr Gregorash said it was as if ministers were prepared to say: "F*** the OIA, I'd rather fight it through the Ombudsman because it takes three years." Ombudsman 'appalled' by ex-lawyer's allegations

    Mr Gregorash said the alleged instruction came during a briefing from Mr Taylor to the legal team in which he referred to Ms Tremain and meeting with Mr Williamson."I resigned over it. I couldn't stare my staff in the face and say this is actually serious conduct that's being presented to you in a lawful way."

    Mr Gregorash said the alleged instruction to withhold information was general - but became specific in relation to "sensitive" issues, including entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, wanted for copyright violation in the United States.

    "Mr Taylor directed me to withhold all information and pass the same direction on to my team."
    He said he was subjected to an internal investigation after releasing information about Dotcom sought by the NZ Herald through the Official Information Act. The information released saw Customs staff discuss earning "brownie points" by passing on Dotcom information to the FBI.

    "Simpson Grierson [Dotcom's lawyers] had made several Privacy Act requests of the Government, some of which flowed through Customs, and decisions were made from ministerial level with Maurice Williamson directing Customs, 'Don't you dare release anything - nothing at all.'"

    Mr Gregorash said Dotcom's lawyers had sought information from Customs to which he believed Dotcom was entitled. "All sorts of jokes and laughs and cut-downs that were being made by officials to each other were being withheld for [what he considered to be] no reason."

    The "brownie points" OIA release to the Herald was the tipping point. "I got dragged over the coals for it. There was an investigation into me. I was cleared. I resigned after that."Mr Gregorash had a high-level role at Customs, which would have seen him vetted for high security clearance by the Security Intelligence Service. He had worked for a decade as government lawyer, previously with the Environmental Protection Authority and the Ministry of Economic Development.

    As a result of the Customs experience, he has not only quit public service but also quit law. Mr Gregorash said the issue was not with Customs but with the influence of politicians on the public service. "The front line staff are really good people with the best of intentions."

    Mr Taylor confirmed there was an investigation launched into the decision to release the "brownie points" OIA. "There were issues raised as to 'was it appropriate'." He said there were no issues found with Mr Gregorash's judgment but with Customs' processes.

    "It was important to have that independently investigated and it was independently investigated."
    He also confirmed he referred to the Minister and Ms Tremain when he briefed the legal team on applying the OIA. "References to the minister and the chief executive may have been made but in the context of making sure we apply the correct principles."

    He said he couldn't recall if the minister had concerns about how the act had been applied.
    "We have a 'no surprises' policy with ministers and we have to keep ministers well informed of issues that may be raised with the minister and that's extremely important we consult with the minister."
    The "no surprises" policy requires departments to tell their ministers when information on which they might be questioned is to be released - but it is not a grounds for withholding information.

    Asked what expertise the minister had to contribute to OIA decisions, he said: "We will consult with the minister as appropriate on appropriate Official Information Act requests, yes we will."
    Mr Taylor rejected any suggestion there was a ban on releasing Dotcom-related material. Asked if there were different views on what should be released, he said: "There's iterations over how we actually respond to issues and there will be discussions over what's in and what's out. They are appropriate discussions to have until we reach a final decision. We do apply the law appropriately."

    Mr Williamson did not return calls or respond to questions about the expertise he added to OIA consideration. In a written statement, he said he was "diligent" in telling ministries "we must meet our legal obligations" under the OIA and Privacy Act. Information should only be withheld "if there were legitimate and legal reasons to do so", he said.

    Dotcom's lawyers were in the High Court this week arguing for access to information held by the Government about the entrepreneur, saying there appeared to be "an over-generous use or inappropriate use of the grounds for withholding" from a range of government departments including Customs. It came after the SIS released information to the Herald under the OIA after previously refusing to provide it to Dotcom.

    Labour leader David Cunliffe said if Mr Gregorash's claims were true, it would be "completely improper" but would confirm anecdotal reports Labour had heard of similar instances.
    "That's why we are committed to a full review of the operations in ministerial offices.
    "We want to make sure there's no abuse of power - the kind of thing we saw in the Minister of Justice's office."

    Mr Cunliffe noted that the Ombudsman had had to intervene in just the last week to force the Prime Minister's Office to reveal the name of the staffer who former SIS Director Warren Tucker had briefed on plans to release information to WhaleOil blogger Cam Slater.
    That staffer was Mr Key's former deputy chief of staff Phil de Joux.


    CREDIT: NZ Herald
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Q. C.'s Avatar
      Q. C. -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yoda View Post
      This is a real problem in New Zealand...
      But typical, all public servants must bury stuff for Ministers to progress their careers. For example:

      As I understand it Cheryl Gwyn and Cameron Mander, when they were Deputy Solicitor-Generals, followed the A-G's instructions and used their statutory powers to stay the criminal prosecutions in which they were named co-defendants.

      For doing that:

      Cheryl was promoted to the position of Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (John Key is in safe hands with Cheryl reviewing his and Judith's conduct).

      Cameron was promoted to a High Court Judge by the A-G.

      We are all in save hands! Otherwise the media would be concerned.
    1. EA Blissett's Avatar
      EA Blissett -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yoda View Post
      This is a real problem in New Zealand...
      My husband was allowed to tamper with my immigration papers by the hamilton office, he sent in applications & letters without my signature and now i'm being blamed for everything and called an overstayer. yet i wasn't aware of what was transpiring because my mail was being stolen... this too is being buried by the government who refuses to investigate and told me the case is closed. last year i was denied entry and my visitors visa rejected because of this, my husband sold our house without my permission or knowledge as his lawyer didn't even contact me. again my husband works for the courts and has violated my privacy many times. in fact immigration refuses to give me several applications stating they are electronic...
    1. EA Blissett's Avatar
      EA Blissett -
      Quote Originally Posted by EA Blissett View Post
      My husband was allowed to tamper with my immigration papers by the hamilton office, he sent in applications & letters without my signature and now i'm being blamed for everything and called an overstayer. yet i wasn't aware of what was transpiring because my mail was being stolen... this too is being buried by the government who refuses to investigate and told me the case is closed. last year i was denied entry and my visitors visa rejected because of this, my husband sold our house without my permission or knowledge as his lawyer didn't even contact me. again my husband works for the courts and has violated my privacy many times. in fact immigration refuses to give me several applications stating they are electronic...
      i was in contact with judiths office as well as immigration office regarding my husbands activities who works for the Hamilton courts i was told they could do nothing.
      he was using his position to get favoritism from police, court staff and immigration staff. he contacted directly from his work email border and security officials to violate my privacy. he sent around unprofessional documents to get sympathy and slander my name. he used the front counter of the criminal section to get unethical advice from lawyers, on what he could get away with... etc... Staff at other courthouses treated me unfairly as the degree of separation and professionalism is very much lacking. i wasn't even informed of any international ways to get help.. i have been denied legal help in new zealand, being told i can't access any programs unless i'm in the country. human rights refuses to help me stating they are not allowed to get involved in immigration matters. woman's groups even refused to help me stating that i have to be in the country to get help as i don't fit into their criteria...the reset of the politicians i've contacted ignore my pleas for help, including the prime ministers office. i have been offically been abandon by the entire new zealand country, as they continue to stand behind this man who is nothing more then a human trafficker
    1. 1victim's Avatar
      1victim -
      Show me the name of a lawyer and I will show you someone who is unethical ....

      Show me an employee of the Ministry of Justice and I will show you a liar ....

      There is nothing honourable about Amy Adams ....

      Hopefully, this information is helpful.
    1. 1victim's Avatar
      1victim -
      I agree. I have a current complaint with the law society and intend to file more. The same with the ministry of justice. Regardless of their endless lies which we have to endure, it embarrasses them.
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