Greens claim conflict of interest in Crafar sale

Russel Norman (Photo: Mark Mitchell)

New Zealand Herald | Thursday Jun 3, 2010

By Adam Bennett

A lawyer advising the Government how to make it easier to sell assets overseas is working for the Chinese company wanting to buy the Crafar farms, the Green Party says.

Co-leader Russel Norman says his party's researchers have confirmed reports that Bell Gully lawyer Andrew Petersen - appointed early last year to the Technical Reference Group advising the Government on the review of overseas investment rules - is working for Natural Dairy NZ.

Hong Kong-listed Natural Dairy NZ is seeking Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval for the $300 million purchase of a number of former Crafar dairy farms.

The review of the Overseas Investment Act, announced by Finance Minister Bill English, was intended to make foreign investment simpler and more attractive while also protecting sensitive land, assets and resources.

Mr Petersen did not return the Herald's calls yesterday.

Dr Norman noted the Prime Minister had recently reprimanded Agriculture Minister David Carter for jeopardising the process of assessing Natural Dairy NZ's OIO application with comments that the purchase was unlikely to go through.

"On the other hand ... the lawyer working for this firm gets to inform the view of the minister who's going to make the decision about changing the legislative framework."

In the House this week, Mr English indicated he was not concerned that Mr Petersen might be advising the Government on the review while acting for an overseas investor.

"We did follow the common-sense course of asking those people who use the act a lot what could be done to improve it," he replied to a question from Dr Norman.

The Cabinet would ultimately make any decisions about changes to overseas investment rules, he said.

In the meantime, Natural Dairy NZ's application to buy the Crafar farms would be subject to the "very thorough" process consistent with the existing legislation.

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