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?