Hard News by Russell Brown


Everybody's Machiavelli

Yesterday morning, the New Zealand Herald reported that Bevan Chuang, having gone public on her two-year relationship with Auckland mayor Len Brown, "believed Brown had only one option left - and that was to resign." The information came, it said, in "a statement through blogger Cam Slater, whose Whale Oil website broke the news of the affair."

Puzzlingly, other media were told via similar channels that she had in fact voted for Len Brown as mayor, supposedly showing that her actions in going public could not have been political.

And now, this morning, the New Zealand Herald, having been able to speak directly to Chuang, reports thus:

The woman at the centre of the Len Brown sex scandal says she felt pressured to reveal the affair by a member of his right-wing rival John Palino's election team - and is now sorry she went public.

Bevan Chuang told the Herald she entered an intimate relationship with Luigi Wewege, a member of Mr Palino's failed campaign team, who wanted her to expose the mayor's infidelity when he found out about the affair.

"Luigi started pursuing non-stop about how I should tell on Len," Ms Chuang said. "I was asked to record phone calls because that's when Len would say all the dirty stuff."

She says Mr Wewege wanted to publish the allegations on the Whale Oil blogsite, run by Cameron Slater, to ruin Mr Brown's reputation before the election but she refused to swear an affidavit and produce text messages to corroborate her story.

The Herald report is backed up with transcripts of Facebook messages which seem to clearly show that Wewege not only repeatedly pressured Chuang to dish on Brown, but was prepared to exploit their "intimate relationship" to do so. She seems like a vulnerable individual and he seems to be a real arsehole.

Reporter Stephen Cook, who wrote the original story for Cameron Slater's Whaleoil website, and who has been the conduit for nearly all Chuang's apparent statements so far, has now thrown up a damage-control effort (another "exclusive, for god's sake) in which he presents selected audio excerpts in an attempt to show she was up for it. You may recall that Cook once threatened to expose a source's identity in a way that seems to have contributed to her suicide. He's a stain on journalism.

But that's not what anyone should want to know from Cook. The question he should be expected to answer before he gets to say anything else is this: Is he being paid for these stories? And if so, by whom? Freelance journalists don't usually work for free, and Cook can't exactly be flush with employment since Truth went under.

Wewege himself seems quite the critter. This interview with the website Diplomatic Courier, which named Wewege, as "the co-founder of Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute & Doing Good Fellows", one of its "top 99 under 33", is composed almost entirely of preposterous babble:

The key premise is to foster intellectual dialogue and relationships between New Zealand youth and the world decision-makers of today and tomorrow. Thus we are able enhance New Zealand’s presence and competitiveness in the global arena by contributing to the development of the country’s future social, business and political leaders

Over at his LinkedIn page, we can discover that his former role with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development involved:

Identifying and analysing the strategic opportunities and challenges critical to the transformation of Auckland into the major events destination.

The political centre-right in Auckland does seem to throw up these ambitious, self-mythologising types, men who will scheme and dish (often on each other) and even tell you about it as if it is a point of pride. To be the author of a plot like the one Wewege apparently attempted is merely proof of a necessary facility in the dark arts. It's like a village where everyone's Machiavelli.

Back in 2004, Act party member Brian Nicolle was forced to resign as John Banks' campaign manager after eventually admitting that it was he who had facilitated the reprinting and distribution of NBR's insane hatchet job on Banks' rival Dick Hubbard, which had arrived in voters' letterboxes unattributed and without the mandatory campaign authorisation. He had initially lied about the whole thing.

Another campaign associate, Aaron Bhatnagar, publicly lamented Nicolle's straying into political "black ops" and distanced himself from such a nasty business. Unfortunately for him, I found copies of the Hubbard PDFs -- the ones he didn't know about -- sitting unsecured in Bhatnagar's own Mac.com public directory.

Four years later, I was able to reveal that Bhatnagar, this time part of a victorious Banks campaign, had engaged in a sustained, clumsy and covert Wikipedia editing campaign against Hubbard and his council allies -- and tried at the last moment to cover his tracks. It wasn't illegal, but it was certainly unethical.

And of course, yesterday John Banks himself was committed to trial over his allegedly false declarations with respect to his mayoral campaign donations in 2010.

The Auckland centre-right needs to clean up its act. Not only for its own sake -- we can only speculate what nastiness underlies its present splintered, incoherent state in local body politics -- but for the sake of Aucklanders. Why, when it can develop capable young politicians like Nikki Kaye, does it present us with this endless stream of dicks at council level?

Whatever happens from here, Len Brown has sustained significant reputational damage. At the least, he showed poor judgement in having his liaisons in council rooms. He can't play the family-man card any more. And there is the matter of the allegedly threatening texts received by Chuang as the story neared release.

And Chuang herself? It's hard to see how she has a political career now, and she must be suffering pretty badly personally. Last night she made posts on Weibo and Facebook:

In a Facebook entry last night, Bevan Chuang, the woman who went public about her affair with Brown, claimed she has been manipulated by people advancing their own political agendas.

In her Facebook posting, Chuang asked Whaleoil publisher Cameron Slater and staffmembers of Brown's main challenger in the recent election, John Palino, to stop calling and texting her, saying: "This is harassment."

She also asked the Palino team to stop contacting her.

Before all that went down, Jackie Sperling, who was connected to Slater in this utterly bizarre case, tweeted me yesterday that:

I'm predicting she will look back on this time with a clearer head & realise how Slater has used her.

Slater has responded to the statements by declaring that Chuang must be having a breakdown. Classy.

Unfortunately for her, this scandal has also brought to light her criminal conviction for a gross breach of trust as an employee of Auckland Museum. I've actually been following Chuang on Twitter for a year or two, as an interesting oddball. The truth turns out to be odder than I could have imagined.

But really: these are pivotal times for the governance of Auckland. Big, important decisions about the city's future are being made. Brown's resignation -- which, whatever good oil you heard from Duncan Garner, never seemed all that likely -- would have thrown that process into disarray.

I don't think it's at all controversial to observe that Aucklanders deserve better than the kind of shit we've seen revealed in the past two days -- or, indeed, the past 10 years.

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