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New Zealand PM still upbeat as corruption claims swirl

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key insisted his bid for re-election remained on track on Monday (Sep 1), as the opposition demanded a corruption probe into a scandal that brought down a senior minister.

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key insisted his bid for re-election remained on track on Monday (Sep 1), as the opposition demanded a corruption probe into a scandal that brought down a senior minister.

Campaigning for the Sep 20 vote has been dominated by allegations, based on emails hacked from a right-wing blogger's computer, that members of Key's conservative government engaged in a sustained dirty tricks campaign against opponents.

Justice Minister Judith Collins was forced to resign on Saturday when a 2011 email emerged suggesting she was linked to attempts to undermine the then Serious Fraud Office (SFO) director Adam Feeley. It was the latest in a string of allegations against government figures that began when freelance investigative journalist Nicky Hager published a book called Dirty Politics last month based on the leaked emails from blogger Cameron Slater.

Opinion polls have shown some movement against Key's National Party, but not enough to prevent him winning a third term, with the prime minister saying the public wanted to focus on "real" issues rather than scandal. "You go to these (shopping) malls and you get hundreds of people coming up and going 'you're doing well, we like your policies, get on with it and win the election'," he told commercial radio.

In a further twist, yet more leaked emails have suggested the plot to discredit anti-fraud boss Feeley that Collins allegedly was involved in was launched by a financier whose activities were under investigation at the time.

The financier, whose company went under owing hundreds of millions of dollars, allegedly paid bloggers such as Slater to smear Feeley and another market watchdog, the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), Fairfax Media reported.

Opposition Labour Party Leader David Cunliffe said that if Collins - who denies any wrongdoing - was involved in such a scheme then it amounted to corruption and an independent judicial investigation was needed to restore public confidence. "While fully respecting their independence, I am confident the legal authorities will carefully consider investigating the allegations of a potentially corrupt conspiracy to undermine the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Markets Authority," he said.

Key acknowledged the claims against Collins were serious, but pointed out that she denied any wrongdoing and stepped down vowing to clear her name. He blamed a left-wing conspiracy for the leaks against his government.

"The left has said 'we're not going to win if we talk about the economy, law-and-order, health and education' - so they've illegally hacked into a computer to throw some sort of bomb," he told TVNZ.