Deputy, and soon to be Acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters appears to be backing his senior MP’s calls for Fonterra’s Chairman John Wilson to resign.
Speaking to reporters before going into Parliament on Thursday, Peters lambasted the dairy co-operative’s 2015 investment in China's Beingmate.
In March Fonterra wrote down the value of its Beingmate investment by $405 million to $244 million. Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings quit Fonterra in March. Beingmate has been struggling for much of the period since Fonterra spent $756 million on its 18.8% stake in 2015 and made a loss this year of about $208 million.
“Someone needs to explain why that investment was made in the first place. It wasn’t wise, wasn’t sound,” Peters says.
“I think that a hundreds and hundreds of millions dollars [in] losses needs an explanation and needs a response in the market. It needs some accountability. Heads should roll,” he says.
When asked whose head, he was evasive and would not give a straight answer.
“Those who are responsible,” he says.
Is that John Wilson?
“Well, with the greatest respect, find out all the people who are involved but it goes to the top and the buck stops there.”
When pressed, he said he “can’t believe someone responsible would be in the job still.”
Again asked if John Wilson should step down, he said: “I’m telling you I cannot believe that massive loss in any respectable first world market, that someone could still be in their job.
“That is the complete and total answer,” Peters says.
On Wednesday, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told reporters he thinks it’s time Wilson stood down.
“I thoroughly believe this: as the Chief Executive leaves Fonterra, the Chairman should in quick order catch the next cab out of town,” he said.
Peters told reporters he made it “very clear before the election what I thought of that massive loss and that massive mistake.”
In September 26 press release from last year, Peters blasted Fonterra’s Beingmate investment and former CEO Theo Spierings’ $8.3 million salary.
“This kind of fat cat payout is why shareholders need to be given a say on pay. Shareholders need to be given the power to hold the directors and bosses to account,” Mr Peters said.
Before going into the House on Thursday, Peters suggested it had taken too long for someone to criticise Fonterra on the Beingmate investment.
“The fact I made a lot of statements about it sadly has taken until the 13th of June for people to catch up – mainly you guys,” he said, referring to the media.
Fonterra has refused to comment on the issue.