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OIO failed to show ministers all 'good character' info

Thursday 12 May 2016 02:41 PM

OIO failed to show ministers all 'good character' info on Argentinian brothers

By Pattrick Smellie

May 12 (BusinessDesk) - The Overseas Investment Office had information about the 'good character' of the 2014 Argentine buyers of a 1,317 hectare Taranaki farm but didn't give it to the ministers assessing the application, its parent body Land Information New Zealand has disclosed.

LINZ chief executive Peter Mersi said an independent inquiry, to be conducted by Queens Counsel Terence Stapleton would review the OIO's process for assessing good character, one of the hurdles any foreign investor must clear before being able to buy 'sensitive' New Zealand land, usually farmland.

Onetai Station was sold, on the OIO's advice, to Ceol & Muir, a company established with the help of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca at the centre of the global tax evasion document leak known as the Panama Papers. The company was ultimately owned by Argentinian businessmen brothers Rafael and Federico Grozovsky. The pair is alleged by Labour MP David Cunliffe to have been held criminally liable by the Argentine courts for polluting a river near a tannery they own.

"It has become apparent that some information relevant to the good character test and held by the OIO was not made available to the relevant ministers," Mersi said in a statement. “In order to test whether the process in place for assessing good character is sufficiently robust, I have asked for an independent review of it.”

The report is due by June 15 and will range far further than the Onetai transaction to include current application files that have undergone OIO assessment and are ready for decision, OIO policies and process documents relevant to the good character test, and any other information Stapleton QC considers relevant on any current application file.

The terms of reference for the inquiry show that the OIO "had not recorded how that information informed the OIO’s assessment of good character or any reasons why the information was not made available to the relevant ministers."

The review include: the extent of information gathered in considering the good character test; the recording of that information; how that information is considered and how the final judgment informs recommendations in respect of good character; and making available of the information gathered to the relevant decision-maker, whether the relevant ministers or their delegate.

The inquiry comes after last week's Budget decision allowing the OIO to raise its fees by up to 166 percent for some types of application to fund a 25 percent increase in staff to help process applications more swiftly following complaints from would-be foreign investors about the length of time taken for the OIO to process applications.



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