The NZ First Foundation issue has become more involved with media reports that Shane Jones’ office only disclosed a conflict of interest over the NZ First-linked forestry company loan application the day that Radio NZ made an Official Information request about the loan proposal.
NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) – whose directors include Winston Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry and Mr Peters’ partner Jan Trotman – made an unsuccessful bid to borrow $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, in respect of which Shane Jones is responsible.
Brian Henry’s ‘forestry background’ has been referenced in media reports relating to the proposed company activity. Henry was born in timber town Tokoroa where his father Jack Henry was the Resident Director at the major forestry mill, the New Zealand Forest Products Kinleith Mill.
Jones has said he recused himself from the decision-making over the bid because of his long-standing relationship with lawyer brian Henry, who is the judicial officer for NZ First as well as Winston Peters’ lawyer.
Radio NZ report –
Documents provided to RNZ show Mr Jones wrote to the prime minister advising her of his conflict of interests on 14 October – the same day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request with his office.
Mr Jones has told Parliament that he was only “formally” made aware of the NZFFP bid to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.
But answers to written questions lodged by National MP Chris Bishop show Mr Jones’ office was sent documents mentioning NZFFP and its applications to the PGF on five occasions between 17 June and 9 October.
A spokesperson for Mr Jones said it was a coincidence that the minister declared his conflict of interests on the same day RNZ lodged its OIA.
Mr Bishop said that given the amount of information Mr Jones received, it was difficult to believe the minister did not know about the bid earlier.
“If he didn’t know, he should have known, because the documentation shows his office received five separate documents.”
The documents sent to Mr Jones’ office included advice from the Provincial Growth Fund’s Independent Advisory Panel, on 10 July, on the NZFFP bid.
In total, documents relating to NZFFP were sent to Mr Jones’ office on six occasions between 17 June and 13 November – when the bid was turned down – but Mr Jones said he “personally” received only three of them.
He said none of the documents went into detail about the bid nor disclosed the involvement of Brian Henry and his son David Henry, who is also a director of the company.
In an interview with RNZ today, Mr Jones reiterated that 14 October was the first date he was formally briefed about the proposal.
“I have already said that my office received papers identifying name of the company but I had no idea that that company involved the personalities that apparently are the directors of that company.”
Brian Henry and his family had 150 years of involvement in the industry “so I hope they keep involved in forestry”, Mr Jones said.
The ongoing issue with the NZ First-linked company has continued to gather momentum following the media enquiries regarding the Foundation, its links to the NZ First Party and the various legal and other issues surrounding funding to both the Party and the Foundation.