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Jones Declared Conflict of Interest Same Day Questions Asked

New details revealed over NZ First-linked company and Shane Jones’ office

Guyon Espiner, Investigative reporter, In Depth
Kate Newton , Senior Journalist, In Depth

Shane Jones' office received official documents about a forestry company's bid for public money five times over four months, but the New Zealand First minister only declared a conflict of interest on the day RNZ began asking questions.

Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ / YouTube

NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) - whose directors include Winston Peters' lawyer Brian Henry and Mr Peters' partner Jan Trotman - made an unsuccessful bid to borrow $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, which Mr Jones is responsible for.

Mr Jones has said he recused himself from the decision-making over the bid because of his long-standing relationship with Mr Henry, who is the judicial officer for NZ First as well as Mr Peters' lawyer.

Documents provided to RNZ show Mr Jones wrote to the prime minister advising her of his conflict of interests on 14 October - the same day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request with his office.

Mr Jones has told Parliament that he was only "formally" made aware of the NZFFP bid to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.

But answers to written questions lodged by National MP Chris Bishop show Mr Jones' office was sent documents mentioning NZFFP and its applications to the PGF on five occasions between 17 June and 9 October.

A spokesperson for Mr Jones said it was a coincidence that the minister declared his conflict of interests on the same day RNZ lodged its OIA.

Mr Bishop said that given the amount of information Mr Jones received, it was difficult to believe the minister did not know about the bid earlier.

"If he didn't know, he should have known, because the documentation shows his office received five separate documents."

The documents sent to Mr Jones' office included advice from the Provincial Growth Fund's Independent Advisory Panel, on 10 July, on the NZFFP bid.

In total, documents relating to NZFFP were sent to Mr Jones' office on six occasions between 17 June and 13 November - when the bid was turned down - but Mr Jones said he "personally" received only three of them.

He said none of the documents went into detail about the bid nor disclosed the involvement of Brian Henry and his son David Henry, who is also a director of the company.

In an interview with RNZ today, Mr Jones reiterated that 14 October was the first date he was formally briefed about the proposal.

"I have already said that my office received papers identifying name of the company but I had no idea that that company involved the personalities that apparently are the directors of that company."

Brian Henry and his family had 150 years of involvement in the industry "so I hope they keep involved in forestry", Mr Jones said.

Brian Henry and Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Answers to written questions also show that Mr Peters wrote to the prime minister on 14 October, the same day as Mr Jones did, declaring a conflict of interest in relation to the NZFFP bid.

Mr Peters has been a close associate of Brian Henry for many years and Mr Peters' partner Jan Trotman was appointed as a director of NZFFP in August.

After RNZ broke the story on the NZFFP bid, the company issued a statement on 18 November, saying it had no further plans to apply for financial support from the government.

It also said it was embarking on a series of expansion plans, including purchasing Claymark Group, which manufactures and exports pine products at six sites around New Zealand.

A sale and purchase agreement for NZFFP to buy Claymark was announced on 30 August but today Claymark called in receivers, putting up to 600 jobs on the line.

"As a result of NZFFP not yet settling, the group came under increasing working capital pressure to stabilise the business and fund future growth," KordaMentha receiver Brendon Gibson said.

"NZFFP had entered into an agreement to acquire the Claymark Group. We will obviously be having discussions with NZFFP regarding its contract. Ultimately the business will have to be sold."

NZFFP managing director David Henry said he was disappointed to see Claymark go into receivership but since the agreement was signed, Claymark's financial distress had become worse.

"NZFFP has engaged with Claymark, its vendor and various stakeholders over the past few months to find a solution to its current state of financial distress to allow the transaction to proceed."

Mr Henry said NZFFP would continue to work with Claymark's receiver to keep its 600 employees in work and still planned to consolidate several wood processing companies to create a higher-value export industry.

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