Hagamans say Little apology not genuine, defamation suit to proceed
Defamation proceedings against Labour Party leader Andrew Little by Earl and Lani Hagaman will proceed, even though Little publicly apologised today after the Auditor-General found no link between the couple's political donations and a hotel management contract.
The National Party donors and hoteliers issued proceedings last June over statements Little made about a hotel management contract in Niue that was awarded to Earl Hagaman's company Scenic Hotel. The contract was awarded a few weeks after Hagaman donated $101,000 to the National Party during their 2014 election campaign.
Little called for the Auditor-General to look into the matter, saying the "revelations about the Scenic Hotel Group and its resort contract in Niue stink to high heaven". The Hagamans gave Little a one-week deadline to retract his comments and apologise last year, but he refused, saying he would address the legal issues once the Auditor-General had dealt with his referral.
In September last year, the Auditor-General said that from the information available, there had been a "standard procurement process, with reasoned and documented analysis for the selection of Scenic Hotel Group as the hotel operator for the resort and for the subsequent investment of New Zealand international development assistance funds in expanding the resort."
Little said today that he had "made a serious effort" to resolve the issue with the Hagamans over the past three months, but his offers of an apology and redress had been rejected.
"Today I want to publicly apologise unreservedly to Mr Hagaman for any hurt, embarrassment or adverse reflection on his reputation which may have resulted from my various media statements," Little said. "I have offered that apology to the Hagamans. I have also offered to make a substantial contribution towards the Hagamans' costs; an amount I am advised, was greater than would likely have been awarded by the court.
Lani Hagaman said the media statement from Little had "come as a surprise."
"It's difficult for us to accept this as a genuine apology if Earl is receiving the details after it was released to the national media," she said. "Mr Little has had 12 months to apologise, and in the interim we've spent more than $200,000 in legal fees preparing for this case, which is now only one week away."
The couple will consider their position over the weekend and seek legal advice but, at first glance, believe they will continue with defamation proceedings that will begin in Wellington's High Court on April 3, Hagaman said.
Little said the court proceedings were "unfortunate" and "everybody's time, not least the court's, could be better used."
Both sides have said they won't make any further statements to media.