The Nation has been doing some digging into #Sheepgate and last weekend broadcast the results. There were some findings that if confirmed should result in McCully’s cabinet career being ended. Not to mention a potential Privileges Hearing to decide if he has misled Parliament.
Here at the Standard the issue has received a lot of attention. Just search sheepgate to see how the controversy has developed.
To recount a rich Saudi businessman became upset when New Zealand stopped live sheep exports following a particularly disastrous ship trip during which four thousand sheep died. National made noises as if the ban would be reversed but then resiled from this. To assuage the rich Saudi businessman’s feelings a total of $11.5 million of taxpayer’s money has been or is being paid. The sums include a “compensation but not a compensation” payment which was designed to keep the lawyers away from it and which incorporated a payment to the Saudi businessman for intellectual property for hosting New Zealand sheep on a New Zealand designed farm. The rest included the construction of a model farm in the middle of the Saudi desert and plane tickets for 900 sheep, most of which died after landing.
It seems clear the payment was essentially a facilitation payment to get the Saudi’s to sign a free trade agreement. Not only is this on the face of it corrupt, but it has so far failed so it is also clear evidence of incompetence.
The revelations on the Nation are astounding.
The showcase agrihub in the middle of a Saudi desert is that accessible that a cameraman sent there by TV3 was trespassed from the site and then received a visit by local police who confiscated his camera cards. Showcases are normally not so secretive.
The Auditor General is involved and has been researching the matter since August last year. Apparently the investigation is ongoing and a conclusion is not due soon. It is hard to understand why it should take so long.
Tim Watkin at Pundit has summarised the disclosures made on the Nation:
Sheikh Hamood’s business partner George Assaf says, contrary to McCully’s claims and his cabinet paper in 2013, that they never had the ambition or appetite to sue the New Zealand government.
Despite confirmation from John Key even [this weekend] that his government has never considered resuming live sheep exports, MFAT documents show McCully was asking officials about how and when live sheep exports could be restarted. Specifically, he was investigating the possibility of a shipment in late 2015 of 45,000 sheep to Saudi Arabia.
Assaf says the planeload of 900 sheep sent to Saudi in 2014 was “a trial shipment before one day they decide to take a bigger shipment by sea”.
McCully, Hamood and Assaf discussed the possibility of creating a satellite farm in Ethiopia, using official development assistance funds.
And an MFAT document includes an action point: to develop a “scientific trial” that would involve a shipment of sheep, based on a suggestion by Hamood.
If it has been determined that there was no actual credible legal threat, and this appears to be more and more likely, then McCully must go. If he was aiming to resume live sheep exports and did not inform the Prime Minister or Cabinet then he should go. If he was going to use development assistance funds to try and stitch up a private deal with a Saudi businessman to facilitate a free trade agreement with Saudi Arabia then he should go.
The Auditor General must proceed with haste with the completion of the report into this matter. As Matthew Hooton has said there are worrying issues about whether this is evidence of incompetence or corruption. Or both.