A ministerial decision on the sale of 16 farms to China’s Shanghai Pengxin is due late tonight or tomorrow, the High Court in Wellington heard today.
Yesterday cabinet briefly discussed the Overseas Investment Office’s recommendation on whether Pengxin should be cleared to buy the Crafar family farms. Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson and Associate Finance Jonathan Coleman have the final say on whether to approve the deal.
A rival consortium led by controversial Kiwi businessman Michael Fay was in court today seeking directions on a case opposing the sale but no orders were given as the two sides had reached agreement on three issues.
Belly Gully lawyer David Cooper, representing the Fay consortium, said the application for approval had been provided to his client and the OIO’s recommendation made to the ministers would be made available when the decision was made.
It had been agreed with Milk New Zealand Holdings that they would not take steps to settle the transaction prior to 5pm on Friday, Feb. 3.
The Fay consortium still intends to seek a judicial review if the Chinese consortium gets approval.
Peter McCarthy from Crown Law said a decision is due late tonight or tomorrow.
The parties are to hold a telephone conference at noon on Monday.
The sale involves 8,000 hectares of North Island farmland. Its sale to a foreigner has been controversial.
The Fay-led consortium, including Tiroa E and Te Hape B Trusts, Tauhara Hapu Trusts, Aitchison Farms, WD Holmes 2000 Trust, Donovan Group and Brent Cook launched a rival $171.5 million offer in September, believed to be some $30 million below Pengxin’s bid.
The Fay group had its bid for the farms declined by receiver KordaMentha, who called the price “unacceptable”.
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that he hasn’t seen anything to make him question the OIO’s processes.
Key has talked down the extent of foreign ownership of local farmland, saying he understood it to be less than 1 percent.
“The wholesale sale of land in New Zealand is not in New Zealand’s best interests, and that was why we sought to toughen up the overseas investment act,” he said. “At around about 1 percent, I don’t think we have a substantial issue.”
The Crafar farms were tipped into receivership - with KordaMentha appointed receiver - by lenders Westpac, Rabobank and PGG Wrightson in October 2009 who were then owed about NZ$216 million.