New Zealand leader John Key in privacy dispute

AP News
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Posted: Nov 15, 2011 10:31 PM
New Zealand leader John Key in privacy dispute

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has found himself embroiled in a dispute over his own right to privacy, just ahead of general elections at the end of next week.

Key had been expected to have an easy re-election campaign after opinion polls put him and his National party well ahead of rivals. But with just ten days remaining until New Zealanders go the polls, Key on Wednesday walked out of a news conference in frustration after refusing to answer questions about a recording of a conservation he says was private.

"I'm here to talk about trade and the economy, and I think they're the issues that matter to New Zealanders, and I'm not interested in engaging in the others," he said before walking out.

The recording, which hasn't been made public, was taken by a freelance cameraman Friday in Auckland when Key met at a cafe with a potential political ally, Act party candidate John Banks. Key laid a complaint with police, saying the recording was illegal.

But opponents claim it contains embarrassing political statements by Key and should be released.

Key's meeting with Banks began as a staged event, with media invited. But then the media were asked to leave so the men could have a private conversation.

Freelancer Brad Ambrose left a cloth pouch on the table containing a recording device, which wasn't spotted by Key or his security detail. Ambrose later turned over the recording to the Herald on Sunday newspaper, which hasn't published details of the recording but has hinted it contains material which could change the way people choose to vote.

In media interviews, Ambrose said he inadvertently left the device on the table in the confusion of the media scrum and hadn't intended to record the conversation.

But Key and his party dispute that account.

"There are a number of inconsistencies in the story which together suggest an attempt to conceal a deliberate News of the World-type covert operation," said lawmaker Steven Joyce, who is the National party's campaign chair, in a release.

This week New Zealand Police issued an advisory notice to media organizations saying they were investigating the prime minister's complaint and reminding organizations that disclosing intercepted communications was an offense punishable by up to two years in prison.

In an email Wednesday, a spokesman for Key said that "the matter is now with the police and the Prime Minister has no further comment."