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April 28, 2017

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New Zealand justice minister resigns as scandal breaks involving blogger

WELLINGTON -- New Zealand's Justice Minister Judith Collins resigned Saturday from her portfolios amid a scandal about her ties to a controversial blogger.

The resignation comes just three weeks before New Zealand's general election and could impact the chances of center-right Prime Minister John Key returning for a third term in office. Opposition parties will see the move as victory while Key will hope it will bring closure to the scandal.

Collins was one of Key's top ministers and observers had considered her a possible future prime minister.

New Zealand freelance investigative journalist and liberal activist Nicky Hager first detailed the extent of Collins engagement with blogger Cameron Slater in a book he released this month, "Dirty Politics," which was based on hacked emails from Slater's Whale Oil blog that Hager had obtained.

The blog takes a no-holds-barred approach to promoting Slater's conservative views and mercilessly attacking opponents.

Key did not mention the book in an announcement Saturday. He said Collins had resigned after he received new information that raised questions about her conduct as a minister.

"This new information suggests Ms. Collins may have been engaged in discussions with a blogger in 2011 aimed at undermining the then Director of the Serious Fraud Office. Ms. Collins was the minister responsible for the SFO at the time," Key said in a statement.

Key also released a 2011 email written by Slater and addressed to several people in which Slater said that he had spoken at length with Collins and she was "gunning" for the director, Adam Feeley.

Collins said in a statement she had nothing to do with the email and denied any inappropriate behavior. She said she was resigning because she didn't want the matter to become a distraction for Key or his National Party during the election campaign.

She said that despite resigning from her portfolios, she would remain a lawmaker and planned to campaign for re-election.

Recent opinion polls have indicated Key remains a popular leader and the front-runner to win the election. Under New Zealand's proportional voting system, parties typically need to form alliances to govern.

On his blog Saturday, Slater said he felt bad for Collins, who was a friend and the victim of left-wing campaign to remove her.

"This game, this beautiful game, this Dirty game, it is brutal," Slater wrote.

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