Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei could face up to seven years behind bars if she is convicted over her benefit fraud admissions.
Even without serving jail time a conviction alone would spell the end of Ms Turei’s political career.
Ms Turei, a lawyer, says she is not yet sought legal advice over the confession during a policy announcement that she lied to welfare services about having flatmates in the 1990s while she was an unemployed solo mum and law student on the domestic purposes benefit.
Otago University election law researcher Andrew Geddis said the confession has potentially very serious ramifications for Ms Turei, who yesterday revealed she would stay on as the Greens’ co-leader.
“If you sign a document knowing that it’s false to get a benefit it’s obtaining by deception, misuse of a document that’s up to seven years,” he said.
“Those things could still be prosecuted.”
Ms Turei could not recall when asked yesterday whether she had signed her name to the statements.
“I don’t remember whether I signed any documents or not, or whether it was just a conversation that I had with my case manager,” she said.
“I did not tell them the full number of people who were living in the house in order to improve the accommodation supplement, I think it was called at the time, to make it easier, financially easier, for my baby and I.
Asked if she was intentionally deceptive she responded, “yes”.
Ms Turei met with investigators from the Ministry of Social Development on Thursday to discuss her case, including to determine how much she will have to pay back and whether she could face prosecution.
The Electoral Act prohibits anyone convicted of an offence carrying a penalty of two years or more in prison from becoming a Member of Parliament.
Less seriously, if Ms Turei had simply failed to notify her case worker of change in circumstances, Prof Geddis said that was a relatively minor offence that would be unlikely to be prosecuted because of a statute of limitations.
Also unlikely to be prosecuted is her admission she provided the Electoral Commission with a false address so she could vote in an electorate she did not live in.
Ms Turei voted for her friend in the Mount Albert electorate in the 1993 election when she herself was a candidate for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in New Lynn.
It is an offence that carries a maximum three-month jail term but Prof Geddis said given the 10-year statute of limitations on the offence expired more than a decade ago any prosecution would need to be signed off by the Attorney-General.
While some have labelled it “electoral fraud” Prof Geddis said that was too strong for what was essentially “silly youthful hijinks”. NZN