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MFAT officials refuse to back Prime Minister on Saudi sheep claims

An Ombudsman’s interim decision released about the existence or otherwise of legal advice on the multimillion dollar Saudi sheep deal shows MFAT has failed to back up the Prime Minister’s claims on the matter, says Labour MP David Parker.

“The Prime Minister and Murray McCully have both repeatedly claimed that there was a legal risk to New Zealand taxpayers that justified the payment of $4m to a Saudi businessman.”

“The Ombudsman has said MFAT are refusing to disclose whether a legitimate legal risk ever existed, now claiming this would prejudice New Zealand’s international relations.

“It’s an absurd position but a very revealing one.

“If the advice did exist, then Ministry officials would have confirmed National Ministers’ assertions; but instead they’ve chosen to hide behind ‘international relations’ to avoid Ministers’ embarrassment.

“How can the Minister and PM credibly say admitting the existence or otherwise of a legal claim would prejudice New Zealand’s international relations, when both have already publicly asserted the legal risk justified the payment?

“By hiding behind potential threats to international relations, there’s only one credible explanation; no advice existed.

“The excuse has always been hollow.

“The Government has misled New Zealanders. The suspicion is reinforced that in reality a multi-million dollar facilitation payment was made to a disgruntled Saudi businessman.

“It’s time for transparency and honesty.”