New Zealand PM Ardern staffer's abuse claims dismissed in report

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on as she addresses the media in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Sexual assault allegations made against a member of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's staff could not be established, an independent report into the incident found on Wednesday.

The scandal which broke in September was seen as an embarrassment for Ardern and damaging for her centre-left Labour Party-led coalition government ahead of what is expected to be a closely fought general election next year.

Ardern apologised for the party's handling of the complaints earlier this year, and ordered an independent investigation.

The report by investigator Maria Dew QC said there was "insufficient evidence" to back up the most serious allegations of sexual assault by the main complainant.

The woman had alleged the party staffer assaulted her in a private residence, and she reported this to the Labour Party.

The report said the complainant's evidence was incorrect in several critical respects in relation to the events of that evening.

Other allegations of sexual harassment made by three women against the respondent were also not established, the report said. The accused man had resigned after reports about the allegations emerged in the media earlier this year.

The inquiry, however, did substantiate complaints about the former staffer's aggressive and overbearing conduct in some meetings, however this was not sufficient to meet the threshold of unlawful bullying.

"Harm has been done to everyone involved," Ardern told a media conference after the report was released. "Now it's time for us to draw a line in the sand."

(Reporting by Praveen Menon. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)