Described this week as ‘Winston Peters’ right hand man’, lawyer Brian Henry has been a long time Peters counsel, in more ways than one. But the developing NZ First scandal is unlikely to greatly dent the lawyer who has seen all this before.
Recently appearing in the Auckland High Court proceeding brought by Peters in respect of the overpayment of his superannuation, Brian Henry has now entered the spotlight as the director of the company no-one had heard of, until now, which oversees donations to New Zealand First.
QComms, according to Stuff, “has no online profile, phone number or any other listed information – but in 2018 charged the New Zealand First Foundation for at least $93,000 worth of work and reimbursements to contracted employees. One of these contractors is Henry’s daughter.”
The Electoral Commission is now looking into donations made to NZ First and the hundreds of thousands of dollars reportedly handled by the NZ First Foundation and QComms, while ACT leader David Seymour has indicated a potential police complaint over electoral law violations.
Henry famously described himself and Peters as ‘blood brothers’ when he appeared for Winston Peters before Parliament’s privileges committee in 2009.
Certainly there is, as the media reported, a ‘maverick-in-arms’ link between Brian Henry and Winston Peters with both displaying strong feelings towards wealth and privilege, as well as other issues affecting New Zealand identity.
Henry’s father was a director of the large New Zealand forestry giant NZ Forest Products and coming from a successful family has not seen him aspire to wealth and privilege himself, regardless of whether those attributes have come his way, but rather to stoutly defend his ‘brother’.
From the infamous Wine Box proceedings to the recent superannuation case, Brian Henry has been more than Winston Peters’ go-to lawyer, but rather a wise counsel and trusted friend.
Ironically, the current arguments about shenanigans with NZ First’s donations is old hat for the couple. Ten years ago similar arguments raged about the way political donations were made and received.
Hard questions were asked about Henry’s non-fee work for Winston Peters and whether that amounted to a breach of the disclosure rules for political donations and whether it required to be disclosed to avoid infringing parliamentary rules.
In fact, Brian Henry indicated then that he could fund-raise his fees and – quite apart from Winston Peters – he represented other clients without pay.
Wealthy businessman Owen Glenn paid $100,000 for work on Peters’ electoral challenge over the 2005 Tauranga electoral result and Peters said he had reimbursed Henry for $40,000 court costs that had been paid following the failed electoral petition.
In 2009 Henry also achieved a major Supreme Court win for Susan Couch who had survived the 2001 RSA triple murders in Mount Wellington. She was permitted to sue the Corrections Department and told the media that Henry never charged her.
“I think he’s a lovely man who just stands up for what he believes in,” she said.
He received some stringent criticism for his pleadings in the Couch case and his maverick manner and failure to curry favour for the sake of it may be one reason he has not achieved the Silk status that many of far less experience have achieved.
He also has strong legal backbround with his undle being Sir Trevor Henry, a High Court judge, while his cousin Justice John Henry was an Appeal Court judge.
Another fan is Garth McVicar, of Sensible Sentencing Trust fame.
“When you first meet him, you wouldn’t pick that he’s got a compassionate bone in his body. He will use as few words as possible to say what needs to be said. But to do the sort of work he does, he’s obviously a very compassionate guy and as I’ve got to know him better I’ve realised that he’s very, very community-minded.”
More recently he has also appeared in the discontinued Whaleoil defamation case.
The current QComms NZ First saga with Winston Peters will doubtless be yet another footnote in the professional biography of the combative barrister.