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New Zealand slams treasury chief's 'clumsy' handling of budget leak

WELLINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - New Zealand's outgoing treasury secretary failed to take responsibility for the leak of sensitive budget information last month and fell short of expectations in how it was handled, a government enquiry said on Thursday.

The enquiry's report comes as Gabriel Makhlouf prepares to take up his new job as Ireland's central bank governor after ending his tenure in New Zealand on Thursday.

The government ordered an investigation into the handling of the early access and leak of sensitive budget information from the treasury's website. Police dismissed Makhlouf's claim that the website was "deliberately and systematically hacked", saying nothing illegal happened.

It was later revealed that the opposition National Party uncovered the budget details using the website's search function.

"The breach of security around the Budget documents should never have happened, under any circumstances," State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said in the report.

"The right thing to do here was to take personal responsibility for the failure irrespective of the actions of others and to do so publicly. He did not do that," he said.

The investigation, however, concluded that Makhlouf's decision to refer the matter to the police was made in good faith. There were also no grounds to support allegations that Makhlouf's public statements or actions were politically biased, Hughes said.

"It was a clumsy response to a serious issue and is not what I expect of an experienced chief executive," he said.

Ireland appointed Makhlouf on May 1, shortly before he was caught up in a national furore over the unauthorised access to budget information.

Makhlouf is due to take over as Ireland's central bank and also sit on the Governing Council of the European Central Bank on Sept. 1.

Ireland must have a central bank of "utter integrity", Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said earlier this month in response to the New Zealand controversy. (Reporting by Praveen Menon Editing by Paul Tait)