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NZ PM under fire for "weak" inquiry into dirty politics

WELLINGTON, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was criticized to attempt to weaken inquiry on the government' s involvement in dirty politics as he announced further detail of circumstances surrounding the resignation of Justice Minister Judith Collins on Tuesday.

Collins has resigned from her post after allegations of her ties to a controversial right-wing "attack bloggers" instructed to attack political opponents and a public relations consultant to undermine the head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)

"I intend to appoint a Government Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2013 to investigate allegations that Ms Collins undermined the then director of the Serious Fraud Office, Adam Feeley, during her time as Minister of Police with responsibility for the Serious Fraud Office," Key said in a statement.

"This inquiry will be carried out by a retired judge or a QC ( Queen's Counsel), who will have full powers under the Inquiries Act to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations, and will report to the prime minister."

Key said he expected the inquiry to take some weeks to complete its work, and was likely to report back after the general election on Sept. 20.

"The matters to be investigated in relation to Ms Collins are serious, and I believe it is important the inquiry have sufficient time to conduct a thorough review of those matters before reporting back," he said.

However, opposition parties claimed the inquiry was an attempt to whitewash over wider concerns regarding the government's involvement with right-wing "attack bloggers" and allegations that they worked together to smear and embarrass political opponents and public servants.

The smear campaign was allegedly funded by the former head of a failed finance company that was being investigated by the SFO.

The main opposition Labor Party on Tuesday outlined its own terms of reference for a public inquiry, which would report to the Governor-General and Parliament, in an open letter to Key, saying cross-party agreement was needed so close to an election.

Labor leader David Cunliffe said all the allegations, which began last month with the publication of a book titled "Dirty Politics" by investigative journalist Nicky Hager and were followed by leaks of more e-mails suggesting government involvement in smear campaigns, should be thoroughly investigated.

"The issues raised have undermined public confidence in our democracy and the rule of law. Restoring public confidence requires a transparent inquiry which is wide enough to traverse the issues which are now in the public arena," Cunliffe said in the letter.

The opposition Green Party said Key was choosing the "weakest possible inquiry" with extremely narrow terms of reference in order to pave the way for Collins' return to Cabinet after the election.

The New Zealand election is scheduled in three weeks and Collins' resignation from the government is a blow to Key's re- election bid.

"If John Key was serious about cleaning up his government, he would have appointed a royal commission which is more independent than a government inquiry," Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said in a statement.

It will be the second official inquiry into allegations raised since the release of "Dirty Politics."

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn last month said she would start an inquiry into allegations that the Security Intelligence Service "expedited" the release of official information to a blogger, regarding briefings provided to the then leader of the Labor Party, Phil Goff, in 2011 in order to embarrass him.

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