A top New Zealand politician resigned from his Cabinet post Wednesday amid a scandal in which he tried to help a friend who was seeking compensation for an accident.
Nick Smith said he was relinquishing his portfolios as minister for the environment, climate change and local government. Smith said he planned to remain in Parliament on the back bench, without major responsibilities.
An emotional Smith told Parliament on Wednesday that in 2010 and 2011 he had signed two inappropriate letters in the case of Bronwyn Pullar, who was trying to claim compensation after suffering a bicycle accident 10 years earlier. At the time, Smith oversaw the agency that runs the country's accident compensation scheme.
Smith said he made mistakes by not disclosing that he knew the woman in the first letter and by writing the second letter, a personal reference, on ministerial letterhead.
In the second letter, Smith described Pullar as a "long standing friend" who was a "dynamic, capable person who worked hard and achieved a lot" before her accident. He declined on Wednesday to elaborate on their relationship.
In a statement Wednesday, Prime Minister John Key said he accepted Smith's resignation with some sadness. "Dr. Smith has been a hard-working and diligent minister, but perceptions do matter and he knows he has let himself down," he said.