In June last year, Mr Earl and Mrs Lani Hagaman issued defamation proceedings over media statements I made about the award in September 2014 of a hotel management contract in Niue to the Scenic Hotel Group (in which they were shareholders and directors) followed by a $7 million upgrade.
It was a matter of public record that Mr Hagaman had donated $101,000 to the National Party in that same month. This generated considerable media interest. As Leader of the Opposition, I considered I had an obligation to respond to media questions on the issues which related to government actions. I referred the matter to the Auditor-General because I believed the public was entitled to be reassured. My focus was, and has always been, on holding the Government to account.
Throughout, the Hagamans have vigorously maintained there was no connection between the award of the contract to Scenic and Mr Hagaman’s donation. The Auditor-General did not establish any connection.
In those circumstances, I thought the matter should be resolved. Over the last three months, I have made a serious effort to do that. 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. 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.
My offers of an apology and redress have been rejected and the matter will now have to be resolved in court. That is unfortunate. I strongly believe everybody’s time, not least the Court’s, could be better used.
I want to make it clear that the object of the criticism was the actions of the National government and that I intended to reflect no impropriety on the part of Mr Hagaman. I accept that no connection has been established between the donation and the award of the management contract and the hotel upgrade.
I propose to make no further statement until the proceedings are resolved.