HUNG OUT TO DRY
Is National Throwing Its Own Under The Bus?
The Oravida troubles that have embroiled National’s Justice Minister Judith Collins may have been deliberately leaked from within her own party. That’s the explosive claim from a former police officer who believes he’s been under government surveillance after accidentally talking about a confidential incident involving a senior cabinet minister. IAN WISHART with the exclusive story
This is a story largely without names, and when you read it in full you’ll understand why. It’s implications are mind-blowing.
On May 13, our online portal InvestigateDaily broke the story of former Auckland detective Nick Preece, and how his loose lips about a confidential incident involving a senior government minister appeared to have put him at the centre of a surveillance sting.
“I slept in a jumbo bin dumpster the other night in Newmarket while the police helicopter circled overhead and patrol cars were circling the area looking for me after I managed to give the slip to a police surveillance team,” Nick Preece told InvestigateDaily, adding, “I know what police surveillance is because it was part of my job on the force.”
Preece, a former homicide and robbery detective, spent 11 years in the police force before embarking on a business career that included establishing an international aviation company – JMI Aerospace – with offices in seven countries last decade.
For a week he, his wife Emma and their young children, had been in hiding as a strange sequence of events pushed their lives out of control. Nick Preece drove hundreds of kilometres in a borrowed car to meet InvestigateDaily, after leaving a false trail for the police or private security teams he says are tracking him.
Preece, with his wife and young children in the car as well, told the magazine his troubles began after he “foolishly” let slip to an Auckland businessman last year details of an incident involving a senior cabinet minister.
It turned out the businessman had links to another senior National cabinet minister. InvestigateDaily has been told of meetings between the businessman and three senior Government ministers.
Among the information he says he was told at one point was that there’s a power struggle underway within National and that he “should watch Judith Collins, she’s going to be brought down in a scandal shortly”. That was around a month before the Oravida milk company affair broke in the news at the start of March this year. Preece is adamant he was also told cabinet minister Maurice Williamson would be another victim of the same powerplay.
But it was Preece’s decision to pass information about a senior minister on to his source that the former cop believes sealed his fate: he had walked into the middle of an explosive situation in this finely-balanced power struggle. Now Preece says he’s been forced into hiding to protect his family because of a witch-hunt that he believes is driven by the Beehive; a witch-hunt involving electronic eavesdropping and unmarked police or government cars. If he’s right, the explosive claims would be far more serious than the offence that forced minister Maurice Williamson to resign this month, because it suggests the police or another agency have been used to apply pressure on a politically sensitive matter – an incident involving a senior minister.
“I’ve never disclosed the source that told me, but they were obviously right on the scene, and they were all told, in fact everybody involved in the incident relating to [the Minister] was sworn to secrecy, they all had to sign sworn affidavits of non-disclosure.
“When my former friend was questioning me, he was throwing names at me – this was down the track when National was obviously concerned at what I knew – he was naming names to me that I knew were related to my informants but I never acknowledged that.”
The former police officer says there was never any suggestion he intended to use the information about the cabinet minister maliciously, as it was deeply personal, not illegal and not a breach of trust in any way, and he now regrets ever mentioning it to his former friend. However, he now also believes that what he knows has made him a target.
“In the last six months, my relationship with my friend has changed, and it’s changed because I have information relating to a Minister. During the course of the subsequent months he started asking more questions about what I knew, and I gave him that information.”
Preece says his friend then mentioned he had passed on the information to one of National’s other top ministers, and that’s when conversations started to become strange, with evidence that he was being ‘bugged’.
“My friend began telling me about email correspondence I’d been having.
“I had struck up an email correspondence with [private investigator and former police prosecutor] Grace Haden, who I read in the Herald was helping Graeme McCready with the private prosecution of John Banks. I just made contact with Grace because she was an ex policewoman – she knew some staff I’d worked with in the police and I really just wanted to find out from her what her involvement in the case was. We started discussing ethics within the police – it’s the role of police to simply gather evidence for a prosecution and put it to the courts to decide, but that was not what happened initially in the Banks investigation and we were both obviously concerned about that.”
“I was told by my friend, who would have had no other way of knowing, that I had communicated with Haden, that I had communicated with Mr McCready – I think I had sent him just one email congratulating him for doing what the police should have done.”
“He told me, he said ‘Nick, you’ve emailed the accountant’, and I thought he meant my own personal accountant, but he went ‘No, no, the accountant McCready’, and he also mentioned Muriel Newman who I had sent some emails to as well.”
If true, the allegations suggest police or another agency or security firm with the powers or ability to intercept communications had been tapping into the email or phone traffic of New Zealand citizens, and that information gleaned from those messages had then been passed back to the businessman with National Party connections.
Preece says he’s a gun collector and the businessman he spoke to shares a mutual interest in firearms, but he was surprised to see the businessman trying to draw him into phone conversations about possibly purchasing illegal weapons like machineguns for his collection; Preece says he was clearly being “entrapped”.
“For probably a month or so now I’ve had a feeling I’m being put into compromising positions, subjects that I’m not agreeable with were being discussed: anti government type discussions, revolutionary-type discussions, radicals – I just got a really bad feeling. Now in the past this guy had never discussed guns with me on the phone – but in the last few weeks he’s been rattling out discussions about guns and some of them would be classified as illegal, like machineguns and other things that I cannot buy on my current licence – on the phone. I thought this was a bit weird. All the guns I own are guns I am allowed to own under my current classification.”
Preece was further surprised to receive a visit from his local community constable who asked for a tour of Preece’s house and gun-safes, on the pretence of following up a noise abatement notice from five months earlier. The house – far from Auckland city – had also been buzzed by the police helicopter.
“I got a little bit panicky because of the Dotcom thing where a community cop was taken through the house before a raid was conducted, to find out what the layout of the property was and to have a look inside. Given the police helicopter flying over our house, I thought this was really strange.
“As I left our street I noticed a van tailing me, a ute. It dropped off and as I came around Logan Avenue there was another silver Commodore parked on the side of the road which kicked in behind me and started following me – it had two gentlemen in it. As I went up the road my wife came towards me in our family car so I flagged her down and did a U-turn and it was quite hard case because the guys following me shit themselves (like they do in surveillance) and they raced up a side road, and there was another car up there also and they looked a bit panicky.
“I’ve done surveillance, I’ve worked undercover, I know what surveillance people look like and how they behave. I saw too many people who looked familiar hanging around my beach house in Hahei, we found an old van parked in front of the beach house with what looked to be surveillance gear inside it, and there were people visiting that van late at night – my wife actually raised it with me.
“I went to pick up the family vehicle outside my lawyer’s at the weekend and I was definitely surveilled from that location by a white van, it had three very nefarious characters in it, heavily tattooed, biker vests, looked like gang members.
“I did a double U-turn around the Penrose roundabout, and I saw them zoom off because they didn’t want to come on with me, and then when I came around and came back off at Penrose they had done a U-turn on the other side of the road and were sitting opposite me, and they shit themselves as I came up to the intersection because they reversed backwards. Again, I know all these things.”
Nick Preece says he has not returned home for weeks as this magazine went to press and remains on the run, amid fears that someone is intending to plant incriminating firearms evidence designed to publicly discredit him because of what he knows.
“Last weekend when my wife and I got spooked down in Hahei we raced into town and I did a lot of counter-surveillance measures because I was panicky for my family. We stayed at the Sky City casino and I went down and made one email to my former friend terminating the relationship because I was now aware he was trying to entrap me.
“It was interesting. I had used a backpacker cyber café and the next day I went past there in the morning with me daughter and it was closed, but sitting in a café opposite were three people who looked distinctly like ex-coppers and one of whom looked like another copper I used to know. I did a double-take but they were watching for the internet café and whether I would come back to it.
“The night of the motel down in Broadway (Newmarket), my wife and I booked in and we saw a man, rather large thick-set individual, looked like an agent or ex-detective. He came in and started talking to the Asian owners. He was on the phone while he was talking to them. Immediately afterwards they moved a vehicle away from in front of our unit and they put the big floodlights on that lit up the forecourt around our unit. There were two hotel staff positioned outside in the rain, watching our door, and two more people across the way, also watching our door.
“I didn’t want there to be a raid of any sort on the motel room with my wife and family in it, so I said to her, ‘You guys stay in here, lock the door and don’t open it for anyone, and if anything happens call the police. I’ll go out for the night, so I left, and as soon as I did I saw a car screaming up Broadway into Great South Road, which was almost in sync with someone ringing from the motel to say I had left, and it’s unusual because policemen are the only people that ever indicate when they’re going fast in cars, and this car roared up Great South and indicated at speed into the motel.
“When I saw it do that, I realised they were coming to try and find me. So I ran down through some shops and car yards and found a dumpster, and I ended up sleeping the night inside a dumpster just to stay out of sight. While I was in there I heard the helicopter coming over and lots of cars speeding around the area for quite some time.
“What I think they were looking for was that we had another vehicle parked at 277 Newmarket, which was my mate’s van. I think they were trying to follow that to see if I was going to pick up my gun collection, because without the gun collection in my possession they would not have anything justifying charging me with some horrible gun offence.”
Preece says for his own protection he made an appointment to see a senior barrister.
“I was supposed to meet a Crown solicitor today (Monday May 12), who had cancelled the appointment we originally held for Friday, and he had set that meeting up specifically on Thursday night with my own solicitor Stuart Callender. I’ve made notebook entries of all the events in real detail, there’s three notebooks floating around, and I have made copies of those notebooks as well and I have put them all in secure locations for people to come forward with if anything happens to me or my family.
“I’m just really annoyed that they’re trying to destroy my credibility and integrity. My former friend told me at one point that the Government are absolutely shitting themselves that Kim Dotcom will get traction in the election, and that a successful prosecution of John Banks would give him that traction. The fact that I got in touch with the people prosecuting John Banks I think has caused this escalation.
“I just want to get my life back. I sent my friend an email stating that I wasn’t going to tell anyone what I knew, you tell your people at a higher level, and I’ll just disappear, but obviously they haven’t accepted that because the surveillance actually ramped up after I asked for that.
“We’re a good family, I’ve never had any criminal convictions, I don’t use drugs.”
Preece says he has decided to go public because it sends a warning to those pursuing him, and that sunlight is the best disinfectant. A scandal involving bugging and surveillance of a political threat is presumably the last thing the government wanted in election year.
Since the InvestigateDaily story ran, police have confirmed they “have no interest” in pursuing Nick Preece, but they’re concerned that clearly someone else does.
“It’s not us,” an officer sent to interview Preece last week admitted, “but there are too many coincidences here.”
Those inconvenient ‘coincidences’ include Preece knowing in advance that Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson were being targeted, and the interception of his emails to Banks’ prosecutors Grace Haden and Graeme McCready, as well as the physical surveillance.
Judith Collins, incidentally, appears to have been a supporter of Williamson based on her comment to 3News this month where she blamed the media for Williamson’s demise: “I hope you hold your own to account, after what you’ve done to Maurice.”
What could the motivation for the power struggle (if it exists) be? One can only speculate. With National looking likely to secure a third term in office at the election, the question of a successor to John Key will inevitably surface within the party. While Labour’s bloodletting is often all too public, National has traditionally done its internal knifing behind closed doors in rooms lined with plastic sheets, with crisis teams ready to bag, stuff and mount the bodies before you can blink.
Although bugging can be done by state agencies, it can equally be done by sophisticated private security firms staffed by former police or intelligence agency staff, and those agencies can be hired by anyone. And that’s why no names have yet been dropped in this story – because there’s more digging to be done.