Election 2020

Legal threats over Nats’ Auckland Central fight

An aspiring National MP has used a QC threatening urgent legal action to warn off those she believes launched a dirty tricks campaign against her within the party

The fight to replace Nikki Kaye as National’s Auckland Central candidate has taken another turn for the worse, with one aspirant threatening party members with legal action over an alleged “damaging, malicious and untrue campaign” against her.

Nuwanthie Samarakone, the party’s current Manurewa candidate who is seeking a switch to Auckland Central, claims the smear tactics have included the previously reported circulation of a photo from a fitness shoot and the false suggestion she has previously worked as a stripper.

The two National Party members purportedly involved, who Newsroom has chosen not to name, have both categorically denied the allegations made against them.

In a letter to the pair, a copy of which was obtained by Newsroom, Auckland lawyer Julian Miles QC said he had been instructed that Samarakone had been “the subject of a damaging, malicious and untrue campaign against her arising after the Auckland Central selection process”.

Miles said the campaign included the circulation of a photo of Samarakone posing in a leotard for a fitness shoot - as previously reported by the NZ Herald and Politik - “with claims she is an inappropriate candidate for National’s...seat”.

“Failing your complying with my client’s requests, proceedings claiming substantial damages will be filed without further notice.”

In addition, “the campaign even suggests she has been a stripper coupled with the clear, and vicious, imputation" she had been involved in some kind of scandal.

Miles said Samarakone had “clear evidence” that one or both of the pair had instigated or been involved in the campaign, which she believed was inspired by the failure of one to be chosen as a potential nominee.

He asked for an immediate end to the campaign against her, with an immediate retraction, an apology, and the payment of legal costs.

“Failing your complying with my client’s requests, proceedings claiming substantial damages will be filed without further notice.”

In a response to Miles, also obtained by Newsroom, the allegedly slighted candidate said Samarakone was “barking up the wrong tree as far as I am concerned”.

“Such a ‘campaign’ is news to me and I object to your very serious allegations,” they said.

“I’m very happy to comment on any ‘clear evidence’ you have but in the meantime you won’t be getting a retraction, apology or any costs from me.”

Nikki Kaye's decision to retire from politics has created a void for National in Auckland Central. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

Samarakone would not discuss the letter when contacted, saying she was obliged not to comment to media until the selection process was completed.

Both subjects of the legal threat were also reluctant to talk about the claims, citing National Party rules.

The allegedly slighted candidate said: “I am a loyal National Party member [and] I conduct myself professionally at all times,” while the other person told Newsroom they refuted all the accusations made in Miles’ letter.

A National Party spokesman said the party had no comment to make on the allegations.

The selection process has been dogged by controversy since Kaye announced her retirement from Parliament at the election.

Samarakone’s attempt to switch from the Labour-held Manurewa seat to Auckland Central at a late stage is believed to have angered some party members, while the party itself has also faced criticism for failing to follow its own selection rules.

“We absolutely and categorically reject any assertion made that the process to date was manipulated in any way."

Samarakone, the chief executive of careers consultancy firm ICE, and communications professional Emma Mellow were the only two candidates put forward for the final selection. However, National Party rules require pre-selection panels to approve at least five candidates unless some are considered unfit to be MPs.

In a statement, National Party president Peter Goodfellow said the Auckland Central pre-selection committee had voted unanimously to put forward to two candidates to delegates, but acknowledged that "in so doing it did not strictly follow the letter of our rules".

"The pre-selection committee has now acknowledged that and rectified the issue," Goodfellow said.

He denied claims that the party's hierarchy was attempting to sway the selection process towards Samarakone, saying: “We absolutely and categorically reject any assertion made that the process to date was manipulated in any way.

"The National Party run extremely local and democratic selection processes, the most democratic of any party in Parliament."

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