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More murk over Saudi desert farm deal

 The Foreign Minister’s refusal to answer questions around the tender process for the multi-million farm in the Saudi desert is appalling, says Labour’s Export Growth and Trade spokesperson David Parker. 

“We are now four weeks into the unfolding scandal about the $4 million facilitation payment - in other jurisdictions called a bribe - and the so-called model farm. 

“Knowing that Murray McCully was away today, I put the question to Steven Joyce, who was responsible for NZTE. The  documents say NZTE was one of the groups who would evaluate the tenders. 

“The Government chose to transfer the question to Todd McClay. Any Minister who turns up to answer on behalf of  Mr McCully can fairly be expected to know the facts. Mr McClay couldn’t answer the questions.  

“However he did admit that in respect of the model farm ‘I am not aware that there are a great number of other farmers in that part of the desert.’ 

“The  second to last paragraph on page 11 of the Government’s own document (attached) said that ‘evaluation of final proposals will be undertaken by representatives of MFAT, NZTE, and interested Saudi parties….’ 

“The denial by the Government that Saudi parties were involved seems hard to believe. 

“The  Minister’s refusal to tell parliament  when he first learnt of the business association between members of the Al Khalaf group and the successful tenderer Brownrigg Agriculture, is an unacceptable lack of transparency. The refusal to answer this question is at odds with his detailed knowledge of the date when Al Khalaf took a shareholding interest in Brownrigg Agriculture. 

“The continued refusal to release documents is also an indictment on the government. Paying off a disaffected businessman to advance a free trade agreement is disreputable and a waste of millions, and this new low has no precedent in New Zealand,” says David Parker.