Ex-sect leader tells of money-running

The Dominion Post, New Zealand/September 28, 2006

Timaru businessman Richard Simmons won the tender to fit out the Defence Force's new Wellington headquarters with office furniture.

His company, Aspect Furniture Systems, is also supplying workstations, chairs and partitions to the Government's top-secret spy agency, the Security Intelligence Service, which will be housed in the same building.

The sect and Prime Minister Helen Clark have been locked in a war of words since it was revealed seven Exclusive Brethren men spent up to $1 million attacking Labour and the Greens before last year's election in a bid to help National.

Exclusive Brethren members also have been critical of Labour's record on defence spending.

Mr Simmons is the brother of Auckland businessmen Andrew and Neville Simmons, two of the "secret seven" who owned up to the secretive pamphlet campaign.

He said yesterday that there was nothing wrong with taking money from a government whose policies he did not agree with.

"Are you trying to say that whether or not I may or may not support National or ACT or whatever, that I've only got a right to supply goods and service to people who are of the same political leaning? Extraordinary."

Mr Simmons supported National's Aoraki MP Jo Goodhew during last year's election campaign and carted a National trailer billboard around Timaru.

It is unclear whether he contributed to the $1.2 million anti-Labour and Greens war chest put together by the Brethren men.

A defence source confirmed Aspect Furniture Systems had extensive experience in supplying other government departments.

Miss Clark is away on holiday.

Defence Minister Phil Goff said he could not influence how suppliers were chosen. "It's certainly not my intent to have any interference in a fair and open tender process."

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister John Howard confirmed he had met with Brethren members and said their beliefs, which include a refusal to vote, should be respected. The sect campaigned on behalf of Mr Howard during his 2004 re-election.

National leader Don Brash, who has also met Brethren members, severed ties with the sect this week after pressure from his caucus, some of whom believed the Brethren's support contributed to their loss at the polls.

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