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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 01:51 GMT 02:51 UK
New Zealand PM probed on 'forgery'
Helen Clark
Ms Clark: Too busy to do the painting herself
Police in New Zealand are investigating the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, over allegations that she signed works of art she did not create herself.

Last month Ms Clark admitted to signing a painting that was not her own in order to raise funds for charity.

The prime minister, who also holds the post of minister of arts, culture and heritage, has apologised for the incident.

But it was later revealed that she and her deputy, Jim Anderton, had signed paintings for other charity auctions as well.

Police enquiry

The investigation is expected to take several weeks.

Police have declined to say whether Ms Clark is likely to be charged with an offence.

They have also refused to specify the charges for which she is being investigated.

Helen Clark with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri
Helen Clark is currently on a visit to Indonesia
Under New Zealand law, fraud and other related offences can carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison.

But even if the issue went to court, lawyers say that Ms Clark would probably be let off with a warning, as she did not attempt to personally profit from the deception.

But correspondents say that with general elections looming in New Zealand, the affair could turn into a credibility issue for the prime minister.

So far her credibility has not been seriously questioned since she took power in November 1999, and her political opponents have been quick to capitalise on the issue.

Too busy

Helen Clark said she allowed the painting to be done by a professional artist because of "time pressures".

The artwork was sold for NZ$1,000 (US$450) in 1999 at an auction in aid of an animal welfare group - when Ms Clark was the leader of New Zealand's main opposition party.

Her deputy, Jim Anderton, is also under investigation after admitting to signing a staff member's work that fetched NZ$55 (US$24) at a school fundraising event.

Ms Clark, who has reimbursed the painting's original purchaser, is currently in Indonesia at the end of a two-day official visit and was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

But Mr Anderson said he was "relaxed about any inquiry by the police".

Meanwhile, the prime minister's now infamous painting made front page news again on Sunday, having been resold at five times its previous value.

A secret buyer paid NZ$5,000 (US$2,250) for the painting on Friday.

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
New Zealand premier 'faked' painting
23 Feb 02 | South Asia
NZ premier denies royal snub
27 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: New Zealand
26 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: New Zealand
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