Saudi sheep deal finally over

The Saudi agrihub sheep deal initiated in 2013 by the Government became very controversial and embarrassing for National, and in particular Murray McCully. It has finally put out to pasture.

NZ Herald: Government axes Saudi sheep deal

The controversial Saudi sheep deal been shut down, which the Government says will save about $1 million.

The deal was made to set up an agribusiness hub in the Saudi desert for Saudi businessman Hmood Al Ali Al Khalaf, which would be used to showcase innovative New Zealand farming operations.

Taxpayer spending on the agrihub was approved by the previous National Government in February 2013, and the following year 900 sheep were flown over on Singapore Airlines.

But Trade Minister David Parker said the deal has now been axed.

The then-National Government had paid about $10m, including a $4m payment to Al Khalaf, for the deal.

Opposition parties at the time called it a bribe to set up a free trade agreement.

It wasn’t only opposition parties.

The deal was made partly as an effort to secure a free-trade deal with the Gulf States.

Al Khalaf had lost millions of dollars after New Zealand banned live sheep exports for slaughter over animal welfare concerns in 2003, and ill-feeling over his treatment was identified as an obstacle to an FTA progressing.

Former Foreign Minister Murray McCully also said there was a risk Al Khalaf could take legal action. As a result, the deal saw a $4m facilitation payment made to the Al Khalaf Group, and a further $6.5m allocated to create a farm on his land.

The Auditor-General criticised the deal, but found no evidence of corruption or bribery.

No evidence of corruption or bribery perhaps, but plenty of indication of a shonky deal by McCully, approved by the National Cabinet, and swept under the political carpet when exposed.