Written By: - Date published: 8:36 am, May 29th, 2015 - 35 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, bill english, corruption, david parker, exports, farming, john key, national, Politics, same old national - Tags: murray mccully, sheepgate
[New Zealand’s pilot agribusiness hub deep in the Saudi Arabian desert]
Competence matters more than spin in government. You need to know now that the experienced people you have will NOT work in a government run by McCully. I and others will not tolerate him exercising the same influence he does now.
Email from Bill English to Don Brash, 2005 – Hollow Men
Sheepgate is developing in a way that must be of concern to the Government.
David Parker has highlighted the difficulties. Yesterday he suggested to Parliament that McCully’s behaviour may have been in breach of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
Heather DuPlessis-Allen from TVOne has been doing sterling work on the issue. She recently set out the extent she had to go to in an effort to find out how much was actually paid to the Saudi Arabian businessman. The work required has been extensive and her tenacity should be acknowledged.
From the One News website:
… a source has told ONE News the legal claim was withdrawn a year earlier, in February 2012.
Mr McCully has confirmed there was no pending legal action at the time he took the paper to Cabinet.
He says, “it certainly would’ve been [withdrawn] by the time the cabinet paper was filed.”
Mr McCully added, “At the beginning of these events there was legal action being discussed. Also a WTO suit was being discussed among some of the parties as well.”
But the cabinet paper (at least the redacted version) makes no mention of the withdrawal of the threat of legal proceedings which apparently occurred well before the paper was presented.
This has been confirmed by McCully and by John Key. This morning’s Herald contains the following statements from McCully:
“At the beginning of these events there was legal action being discussed amongst the parties, also a WTO [World Trade Organisation] suit being discussed amongst some of the parties as well.”
Mr McCully said that legal action was off the table by the time Cabinet agreed to the farm, “because I had been dealing with the matter and tried to avoid the compensation claim and taken compensation out of the discussion”.
Key has had to burn up political capital in defending McCully:
Prime Minister John Key said whether a legal threat was “live” or not at the time Cabinet was told of the deal was not critical.
“Sometimes people say I might take legal action… sometimes what then happens is you try and find a way to resolve that issue, and therefore, because you are looking to resolve it, they put that legal action on hold. That’s a pretty normal practice.”
So if there was no pending legal action why did McCully raise this as a justification for payment of the funds?
If you want to see the extend that McCully has been claiming that resolving a legal dispute was the reason for the payment then this interchange from Parliamentary Question Time on Wednesday provides an example:
Hon David Parker : If this businessman needed New Zealanders to pay for the model farm using New Zealand technology and New Zealand sheep, what intellectual property justified this multi-million dollar payment?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY : As I indicated in my primary answer, the agreement that was struck between officials and the Al Khalaf group included all of the intellectual property associated with shifting the Awassi sheep breeding operation from New Zealand to a new location in Saudi Arabia. Also in the minds of officials would have been the fact that the Al Khalaf group had taken legal advice and could mount a legal claim against the Government for an amount estimated to be up to $30 million. It is a bit rich for members of the former Government, who exposed New Zealand to the risk of a $30 million claim, to berate members of this Government for resolving the issue for one-third of that amount.
Hon David Parker : Was the real reason the first $4 million was paid to pay off people whose influence in Saudi Arabia was getting in the way of the Gulf free-trade agreement?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY : I made it clear that one of the consequences, sadly, from this whole saga was that the relationship between New Zealand and Saudi Arabia was poisoned, and that poisoned relationship spilled over into the wider Gulf Cooperation Council. But I have also made it clear that the officials negotiating this matter had to consider the fact that there was a looming claim for up to $30 million, resulting from the actions of a Government of which the honourable Mr Parker was a member.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Is it not a fact that this is a new low in our international relationships, and that this is a multimillion-dollar bribe that has been given to private interests in Saudi Arabia? Is that not a fact?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY : I have made it clear that the officials who were dealing with this matter would have had on their minds the damage that had been done to New Zealand’s fading relationship with Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf, as well as having on their minds the exposure of the New Zealand Government to a substantial claim for damages resulting from the actions of the Government of which the right honourable member was a member.
Can anyone reconcile the fact that there was no pending legal action with McCully’s statements highlighted above? If the claim had been withdrawn then why did McCully not say this? Why did he choose to present the existence of a legal claim when there was none?
This type of spin is dangerous. Often you will get away with it because the English language is too sloppy to pin down an accurate precise interpretation. But sometimes you cannot reconcile what was said with reality.
Bill English was correct. Substance is more important than spin. I suspect that McCully’s days may be numbered.
[Title borrowed from the Green’s James Shaw]