The Dim-Post

May 27, 2015

The Secret Agrihub in the middle of the Arabian Desert

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 3:35 pm

This is a weird little story slowly evolving into a major scandal. It’s complicated, but worth it. Most of the reporting has come from Heather du Plessis-Allan and Matthew Hooton:

  • Back in 2003 New Zealand stopping exporting live sheep to Saudi Arabia
  • According to Hooton (his stories are paywalled at the NBR), a very wealthy and influential Saudi businessman named Hmood Al Khalaf, who had a business importing sheep contacted National when they were in opposition, and John Key and David Carter privately assured him that exports would resume when National came to power.
  • When National won the election in 2008, Al Khalaf supposedly invested tens of millions of dollars in New Zealand farmland and a ship that could transport sheep to Saudi Arabia. But National didn’t change the law.
  • So Al Khalaf hired Mai Chen to prepare a lawsuit against the government, claiming for ‘between $20 million and $30 million. He also, allegedly, used his influence in Saudi Arabia to block a free trade deal between New Zealand and the Gulf States.
  • Here’s where it gets good.
  • McCully has just admitted that he didn’t take any legal advice on the strength of Al Khalaf’s claim. Instead he arranged for MFAT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to ‘invest’ $11.5 million dollars in a ‘bold and courageous’ Agrihub in the middle of the Arabian desert on property owned by Al Khalaf. You can view recent satellite photos of the ‘Agrihub’ on google maps, here.
  • We also bought a number of Suffolk Ewes – bred for cold conditions – off a company part owned by Al Khalaf and flew them to Saudi Arabia in an air-conditioned Singapore Air plane. They now allegedly reside at the Agrihub, where daytime temperatures average 50 degrees Celsius.
  • The Agrihub is (a) designed to be a regional showcase for New Zealand farming techniques and technologies and (b) is not accessible because it is on private property in the middle of the desert.
  • It sounds a lot like we just gave this guy $11 million dollars, doesn’t it?


  1. This one will end up under the carpet along with many others! paleo

    Paleo Martin

    Comment by paleomartin — May 27, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

  2. You missed David Carter telling parliament on 31 March 2009 how great a resumption in the live sheep trade would be for New Zealand.

    Obviously, the Saudi investors should not have thought that this meant the new National Government intended to re-open the trade, and instead should have reflected on the ban imposed by Helen Clark (and John Howard) in 2003.—live-export-to-saudi-arabia

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — May 27, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

  3. You also missed that there is no settlement agreement.
    If the Saudis were really able to sue the NZ Crown for $30 million (which I doubt and McCully says there is no legal opinion – just the word of Mai Chen) then they still can.

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — May 27, 2015 @ 3:50 pm

  4. If the Saudis were really able to sue the NZ Crown for $30 million (which I doubt and McCully says there is no legal opinion – just the word of Mai Chen) then they still can.

    McMicromanage strikes again!

    Comment by Gregor W — May 27, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

  5. Couple things
    1) That is farmland, isn’t it? Aren’t those circular target looking things irrigated land? I’m basing this on what I’ve seen out airplane windows in the USA and inexplicably not NZ.
    2) Is that an airstrip on his farm?

    Comment by SGBADASS — May 27, 2015 @ 4:47 pm

  6. UPDATE I looked it up.

    The circles ARE irrigated land, with the water coming from the middle of the circle.

    Comment by SGBADASS — May 27, 2015 @ 4:50 pm

  7. I’m genuinely interested in the “in’s and out’s” of sending sheep via air freight, would MFAT be the appropriate ministry, or is this likely to have been done through DPMC?

    Comment by Michael — May 27, 2015 @ 4:57 pm

  8. Something is not right here, Key and Carter assured him when in opposition ( no policy influence whatsoever) yet in Government they changed their minds. Are we supposed to believe he invested his money in NZ, when national was in government, without getting some further assurances , and in writing.

    I think this is the missing thread here, you dont have a legal case without some written advice from a Minister of Agriculture.
    Im thinking too some saudi riyals changed hands to signify a contract or agreement. Not that it would be listed under the national party itself but one of their many fundraising vehicles.

    Comment by dukeofurl — May 27, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

  9. Usually when you do such a deal with the Saudis, they kick some of the dollars back, sharing the love: see

    But this will have no impact on National, as you stated previously. People don’t care about National being corrupt, they hope they might get some of the dosh for themselves one day…

    Comment by richdrich — May 27, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

  10. Muahahahahahahahahah

    Fucking McCully strikes again. For all the rejuvenation that Key has enabled in National over the last two elections, the dwarf succubus survives. There’s been speculation / jokes for years (both inside and outside of National) about what McCully must have on his fellow Nats that enables him to stay in Parliament and in Cabinet. What is it now – photos of John Key in his secret dungeon being whipped with huge ponytails cut from terrified maidens?FFS – this is just another in an almost unbroken string of miniature clusterfucks over two decades that has this guys fingerprints on.

    People don’t care about National being corrupt,

    Corruption? Nah – McCully, micro-management and fuck ups.

    But you’re right that people won’t care either way. I see that opinion polls in the US rate only 25% of voters thinking that Hillary is honest – which must surely mean rather large numbers of Democrats who are going to vote for her anyway.

    Comment by Tom Hunter — May 27, 2015 @ 5:55 pm

  11. Amusing to see Taxpayers Union and Labour acting in concert. Strange bedfellows…

    Segueing from previous post, surely Labour can make something of this gift.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — May 27, 2015 @ 6:33 pm

  12. They should fleece it for all its worth. But will probably make a nice sweater and hand it to Key at Question Time.

    Comment by Lee Clark — May 27, 2015 @ 7:01 pm

  13. The way the Gulf states work, if the Nats did rip this guy off and he has influential friends in government, a free trade agreement with the GCC will involve paying him whatever compensation he feels is appropriate, and coming up with various flavours of bullshit to explain what the money was for. So, just think of it as a John Key/David Carter weaselry fee that we have to pay to get the FTA. I guess it comes down to whether you think a trade agreement with the GCC is worth $11 mil or not, because the alternative would be to send him John Key and David Carter’s heads in a chillybin, and I can’t see that happening.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 27, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

  14. “…the alternative would be to send him John Key and David Carter’s heads in a chillybin, and I can’t see that happening…”

    I know this Serbian called Dragan….

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 27, 2015 @ 8:52 pm

  15. richdrich: “But this will have no impact on National, as you stated previously. People don’t care about National being corrupt, they hope they might get some of the dosh for themselves one day…”

    Would it only come to a screeching halt if people die as a direct result of it, or the police or SFO are involved? Or even all of the above?

    Tom Hunter: “But you’re right that people won’t care either way. I see that opinion polls in the US rate only 25% of voters thinking that Hillary is honest – which must surely mean rather large numbers of Democrats who are going to vote for her anyway.”

    Hilary is the Democrat equivalent of the Bush family in that she’s from a political dynasty. Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders seem to be making the right noises by throwing their hats into the ring.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — May 27, 2015 @ 10:37 pm

  16. Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders…

    I don’t want to divert this thread but really….?


    Hillary is an incredibly brittle campaigner: politically tone deaf, uninspiring, organisationally shit useless, with huge amounts of baggage, some of which (Iraq War vote) is as toxic to Democrats as other things are to centrists and Republicans.

    But Warren and Sanders are even worse. Almost all the same problems, plus being on the rim of internal party support, funding groups, staffing, organisation, and all the rest of what makes a Presidential campaign. Both old and white, and from the deepest of deep blue states. Not politically gifted either: not Obama in other words.

    They don’t have a shit show in hell. Someone else perhaps, but not them.

    Comment by Tom Hunter — May 27, 2015 @ 11:00 pm

  17. “But this will have no impact on National, as you stated previously. People don’t care about National being corrupt”

    Well, it’ll have no impact on National for as long as people don’t perceive a credible alternative which looks like it might do the job any better.

    Comment by izogi — May 27, 2015 @ 11:02 pm

  18. So he was bribed by giving him a farm that’s effectively worthless and valueless? I realise that that doesn’t make it any less corrupt, but it is a bit weird.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — May 27, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

  19. It is an odd story. The only explanation I can think of is that National felt obliged to placate some hurt pride in order to get the free trade deal back on track.

    Comment by NeilM — May 28, 2015 @ 12:01 am

  20. Not directly on topic with apologies, but on theme:

    This is an outstanding appointment. Rather than basing it on political patronage, they have undoubtedly strived to pick the very best person for the job in NZ, who just happens to be a senior former National MP. No doubt her record of standing up for the environment, rather than business interests heavily weighed on the appointment panel. I’m sure we all could instantly bring to mind countless protests – the times we’ve seen her on TV lying down in front of bulldozers trying to stop motorway extensions going ahead, the time she chained herself to a tree. I’m proud that we live in a country where corruption does not exist, and the best person, the strongest advocate, for business, sorry I mean for the environment, attains a role like this, and it gives me great confidence that the NZ I love, will still exist for my children.

    Comment by Joe-90 — May 28, 2015 @ 8:06 am

  21. Insightful addition NeilM.

    Comment by nw — May 28, 2015 @ 8:31 am

  22. “No doubt her record of standing up for the environment, rather than business interests heavily weighed on the appointment panel.”

    Yeah, it’s dodgy. She was already a fairly dismal Minister of Conservation as they go, at least. Subject to being beaten around by Cabinet colleagues and do what they wanted. Whatever might be thought of Nick Smith, who replaced her, he at least actually took it upon himself to seriously consider the issues put before him and got some respect because of that.

    Meanwhile Kate Wilkinson, as Miinister, created a new precedent of it being okay to trade away large amounts of the Conservation Estate (Crystal Basin) to commercial interests, even after it’d been purchased specifically for its values with the intent of applying protection, that the newly-acquired land had actually already been protected, and even though the 1989 clause which allowed land swaps had been intended only for making minor adjustments to land boundaries. The PCE wrote a heap of critical stuff about this in a report a couple of years back–section 5.2.

    Comment by izogi — May 28, 2015 @ 8:55 am

  23. It certainly doesn’t help.

    Comment by Fraud — May 28, 2015 @ 11:47 am

  24. The threat to sue thing is interesting: it will be normalised/instituionalised when the TPP comes in, so I expect as far as the Government is concerned, their response is entirely uncontroversial.

    Comment by Teej — May 28, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

  25. The imagery that you are relying on is well out of date Half the property is covered by images dated October 2013 and the other half images dated December 2011 – you can grow a lot of grass that time under pivot irrigation… just look at Central Otago and the McKenzie Basin.

    Comment by Harold — May 28, 2015 @ 2:28 pm

  26. Were any sheep ejected from the flight for not paying attention to the safety instructions?
    Did any sheep go into Air NZ’s Elite lounge?
    Did any sheep complain about the size of the cheese on their biscuits?

    Comment by RossM — May 28, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

  27. The other background to this story, which is far more relevant to ordinary Kiwis, is that our politicians are totally out of their depth when it comes to Islamic affairs – they just have no concept of the scope and severity of the Salafist/Wahabi menace that Saudi Arabia (Babylon) has unleashed on the world (e.g. via the Mosque it built in Chch), and even if they understood the clear and present danger, they don’t have the courage or integrity to even imagine the radical actions that will be needed to fix this problem. The most patriotic thing they can do at this point is to take their 3 pensions, and just go. Rob the alcohol cabinet on the way out if you must, just go, enjoy your very expensive retirement. We have urgent business to take care of.

    Comment by Jeremy Connell — May 28, 2015 @ 7:18 pm

  28. Danyl does the “secret” in your headline refer to the lack of guaranteed access or to the whole thing being secret. I note Labour in question time was claiming the latter. If so no-one told Ag Minister Nathan whose media release on the National website covering a speech he gave in Saudi Arabia is dated 5 March 2014. I realise that even on his good days, Guy is an obscure figure but I don’t think something on the main party website can be called a secret.

    Comment by Tinakori — May 28, 2015 @ 8:23 pm

  29. I see what looks like a huge, flash house with it’s own airstrip. Not too many sheep in evidence….but then I can’t see the fridges in the house.

    Comment by SteveW — May 28, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

  30. And the FIFA bust goes to show that corruption can be more than just a beltway, oops, Beehive bubble issue.

    And the Rovian ‘you did it too’ tactic can only go so far.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — May 29, 2015 @ 12:04 am

  31. everytime I see the ‘word’ “Agrihub”, I read “Abu Grahib”

    Comment by mutyala — May 29, 2015 @ 1:50 am

  32. The circles look like centre pivot irrigators to me. If Google’s measuring tool and my memory of school cert geometry are both accurate I estimate them to be about 35 hectares each. I count about 20 of them, so say 700 hectares under irrigation. Plenty of fodder for some sheep. I doubt it’d be grass though, wouldn’t lucerne be a better crop?

    I’d love to see Mai Chen’s letter of demand. I wonder what cause of action she alleged? Maybe the legal high’s industry could hire her to get their pound of flesh too?

    Comment by Conrad — May 29, 2015 @ 8:52 am

  33. Sheep of the desert, what next bush camels?

    Comment by Neil Miller — May 29, 2015 @ 9:05 am

  34. You do know that the threat of suing for about $30million was withdrawn about a year before McCully’s paper went to Cabinet. He says that this is true in spite of using the “threat” as his excuse when answering questions during Question Time.

    Comment by xianmac — May 29, 2015 @ 10:21 am

  35. I agree with you, this looks corrupt. but, If this is what you call ‘secret’, I can’t understand why you complain when specialists are apparently required to ‘spy’ for us.

    I’m sure you agree with the sentiments, Danyl, but may I ask; are we to expect an ongoing tendency for the DIm Post to echo Green party talking points and issue them in unison with other media releases?

    I only ask because I thought the consensus here was that such types of parallel media usage are considered as grounds for some very pithy and critical commentary.

    I dare say I’ll get over it, but I can’t help but feel, in a way, you’re letting down lovers everywhere..

    Comment by Lee Clark — May 29, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

  36. Echoing TV One news, NBR and most other media outlets, you mean?

    It’s pretty obvious there’s a story here. All and any questioning of the government is a “Green party talking point”, by that strange logic. Opposition parties tend to do that.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — May 29, 2015 @ 11:28 pm

  37. sammy, I agree. I get your point about opposition parties tending to attack governments, and yes, they echo media outlets and by default every statement in opposition to the Government is a “Green Party Talking point”. That’s an astute observation, (If I may say) because it suggests that Danyl, because he isn’t ‘The Government’ can say practically anything he likes and by doing so, strangely proves he is a neutral or objective bystander.

    My point is more general. Danyl once observed; (calling it Hootens’s Law):

    “The more insight an insider has into the political process, the more calculated their agenda in disseminating those insights.”

    It’s an inciteful observation about human motivation – rather than a ‘Law’ – but It could also read as an apologia for the dilution of any ethical principle by any self-serving political ‘Guardian’. The tendency to become complicit in compromising our ethical principles according to our political motivations, or choose to selectively apply them against those with whom we disagree, is, IMO the standard fare of the blogsphere*? (“Blogosfare”?) I think it gets us all one way or another.

    Using the Dim Post to run point for the Green Party’s talking points, according to your logic,wouldn’t be inconsistent with Danyl’s principled and outspoken advocacy against that kind of thing when others have done it for their ‘teams’ because you may argue it’s different when he does it. According to “Hooten’s Law” that is not true, (but of course “Hooten’s Law” only applies to people with whom we disagree). That’s just according to my ‘strange logic’, and I’ve got a lousy track record in that respect. Thanks again, sammy.

    Comment by Lee Clark — May 30, 2015 @ 8:17 am

  38. While you hint at some sort of accusation there Lee, rather than coming out and saying it, I don’t really think it stacks up.

    I mean, Dirty Politics, if that’s what you are on about, was about more than just ‘bloggers with political leanings writing blogposts that align with political parties who share those opinions’.

    WO was being fed info, lines, and entire blogposts directly. There is nothing n this post that isn’t available elsewhere. All it is is an easily understandable recap of what was already out there.

    Much of this story has been initially reported by Hooton in the NBR, I guess he *could* be a deep deep undercover Green Taliban agent provocateur, but doubts, I haz them.

    If the suggestion is that Danyl would need to be fed the nice easily understandable recap of the story, in order for him to push it out there, then whatever. Seems like a cheap shot to me. Our host is, afterall, a scientist who writes novels in his spare time, eh.

    Cool yer jets, I guess.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — May 30, 2015 @ 8:19 pm

  39. Every time I see ‘David Carter’ I see ‘Sir’ in front of it.

    Comment by poled — May 30, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

  40. Thanks for that bookie. I wasn’t accusing Danyl of engaging in ‘Dirty Politics’, that no one is totally ‘clean’ and to claim to be is deluded. I would never knowingly victimise “a scientist who writes novels on his spare time.” That would be cruel and inhuman, of me, so consider my jets suitably cooled.

    I guess I’ll just go back to kitten-juggling …

    Comment by Lee Clark — May 31, 2015 @ 8:37 am

  41. so do the other sheep importers not aligned with this guy get to go to his sheep farm and see the Kiwi demo farm and our exporters offers.
    Do you think he would let his competition got onto his private farm and see what kiwis have to offer. so we also bought his sheep off him and flew them to his farm and they are breeding stock so why are we selling them breeding stock when he already owns sheep farms in NZ. seems simple to me but spin from the govt will help. i think in the long run we underate our Country, the world is exploding and imploding and this is the best counrty on the planet to live in apart from blackmailing billionaires who think nothing of our people or theres for that matter.

    Comment by Grant McCarthy — June 4, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

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