Foreigners must pass a good-character test to be allowed to buy New Zealand land, and while former "Today" host Matt Lauer’s purchase was approved earlier this year, the country’s Overseas Investment Office is revisiting his case in light of his firing. (Photo: Karsten Moran for The New York Times)
New Zealand examines Matt Lauer’s ranch purchase after his firing
By CHARLOTTE GRAHAM
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The ripples from the firing of Matt Lauer as the co-host of the “Today” morning news show have hit the world of New Zealand property, where officials are already scrutinizing the role of foreign buyers in an increasingly expensive market.
A New Zealand government agency said on Thursday that it was in discussions with Mr. Lauer’s representative over his purchase of a 16,000-acre farm there. Foreigners must pass a good-character test to be allowed to buy New Zealand land, and while Mr. Lauer’s purchase was approved earlier this year, the country’s Overseas Investment Office is revisiting his case in light of his firing.
Officials from that agency “are seeking further information,” said Lisa Barrett, a spokeswoman for the agency. The agency can require buyers to dispose of the property if it believes the rules have been violated.
NBC on Wednesday said it fired Mr. Lauer from “Today” following an allegation of sexual harassment, making him the latest major media figure to fall from grace amid a broad examination in the United States of inappropriate sexual behavior in the worlds of media and entertainment. Mr. Lauer, a well-known face on morning television in the United States, had been a co-host at “Today” for two decades.
Mr. Lauer’s purchase of the lease to Hunter Valley Station, a ranch on the shore of Lake Hawea on New Zealand’s picturesque South Island, was approved in February. He bought the property with his wife, Annette Lauer, through a New Zealand-based company, according to investment office documents. The value of the property was not clear; the local news media put the price at $9.2 million. In New Zealand, government-owned land can be leased but not purchased.
For foreign buyers, New Zealand’s definition of good character is broad. Foreign buyers can fail the test if officials found they had committed “offenses or contraventions of the law,” whether they were convicted of a crime or not. The agency can consider “other relevant matters” in making its decision, according to its website. Mr. Lauer has not been charged with wrongdoing.
The claims against Mr. Lauer come at a fraught time for foreign property purchases in New Zealand. The newly-formed government, led by the center-left Labour party, has made curtailing foreign acquisition of New Zealand farms and homes a priority as the country struggles with surging house prices.
Early next year, the government is set to ban the sale of existing homes to nonresidents. Beginning in mid-December, foreign buyers of farmland will have to prove tangible benefits from their ownership.
Mr. Lauer’s purchase of the lease caused controversy in New Zealand. Recreation groups were upset that he was not forced to allow public access through the lakeside property to the neighboring Hawea Conservation Park.