Premier’s Dinner With CEO Launches Inquiry
NEW YORK–Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts is at the center of a political scandal in New Zealand that has led to calls for the resignation of that country’s prime minister.
The tempest, dubbed “Saatchigate” or “Dinnergate” by the local media, stems from last Aug. 31 when Jenny Shipley–New Zealand’s first female prime minister–had dinner at Roberts’ home in Wellington.
Saatchi had won the New Zealand Tourism Board’s $16 million ad account the previous month. In October, the Tourism Board increased its budget to a reported $26 million. At the time, most other public services were facing cuts.
Shipley, leader of the right-of-center National Party and a longtime acquaintance of Roberts, is accused by the opposition Labor Party of making a sweetheart deal by increasing the country’s Tourism Board business with Saatchi in exchange for the agency running the National Party’s upcoming election campaign at a discounted rate.
New Zealand’s national Audit Office has launched an inquiry into the allegations.
Last week, Shipley was accused of “bringing Parliament into contempt” after she stonewalled questions about the Tourism Board. At one point, she stormed out of the debating chamber in mid-session to deliver a statement to reporters. New Zealand’s Parliament wrapped up its first session of the year last Thursday.
The scandal has preoccupied the two islands for months. Headline writers have a had a field day, with one calling it the “Slippery Slope of Sleaze.”
In an odd parallel with recent events in the U.S., Shipley’s popularity has risen despite the onslaught of bad news–even when respondents say they do not believe their top politician has come clean with details in the imbroglio. Some see the charges as political opportunism. This scandal, however, does not involve any allegations of sexual misconduct.
Roberts did not return calls for comment at press time.
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