Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Iwi rejects sacred site offer from Chinese firm

Labour leader David Shearer. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Labour leader David Shearer. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin has been accused of making a "Claytons" offer to return historical pa sites to a King Country iwi after knocking back its offer to buy the farms where the sites are located.

Interests associated with King Country iwi Ngati Rereahu and central North Island iwi Tuwharetoa said yesterday that Shanghai Pengxin was seeking the "ridiculous" sum of $66.5 million for three properties out of the 16 former Crafar farms the Chinese company bought this year for a total believed to be just over $200 million.

The iwi interests believe the three farms, which include areas of cultural significance, are worth about $45 million.

Chris Kelly, the chief executive of Government-owned Landcorp, which will run the farms for Shanghai Pengxin, dismissed the claim, saying no offer had been made and he had only offered a "rough" verbal indication of what Landcorp believed the farms were worth.

But spokesman for the iwi group Hardie Peni said he had documents to back his claims including an email from Mr Kelly to Tuwharetoa in which he gave an indicative valuation and sale price.

He also had an email in which Terry Lee of Shanghai Pengxin expressed regret that the "valuation gap" between what the two parties believed the farms were worth meant Ngati Rereahu was withdrawing its purchase bid.

However Mr Lee offered the pa sites on the farms to the iwi to build a relationship.

But Mr Peni dismissed that as a "Claytons offer" as the return of the pa sites was part of Shanghai Pengxin's successful Overseas Investment Office application to buy the former Crafar farms this year.

Labour leader David Shearer said the price being sought by Shanghai Pengxin showed "Kiwi farmers are being priced out of the market by foreign corporate buyers".

"Kiwi farmers who are the best in the world at what they do simply can't afford to buy good land in their own country because large valuable tracts are being sold off to overseas buyers under this Government."

That was why Labour was promoting legislation to ensure that foreign buyers could not purchase land here "unless the benefits are greater than a New Zealand investor could produce and it brings substantial job creation and increases in exports".

Mr Peni is chairman of two Ngati Rereahu trusts which were part of a Sir Michael Fay-led consortium which competed against but lost to Shanghai Pengxin in a bid to buy the 16 former Crafar dairy farms this year.

The Fay Group is appealing against Justice Forrest Miller's High Court ruling that with support from Landcorp, Shanghai Pengxin has the necessary expertise and acumen to operate the farms as required under the Overseas Investment Act.

The appeal is due to be heard on Monday.

Mr Peni said the timing of the high offer from Shanghai Pengxin was very significant.

"I have little doubt it was an attempt to undermine our buying group ahead of the court appearance."

Ngati Rereahu and Tuwharetoa had had claims on the land where the three farms were located since the 1800s and saw the potential sale"as an opportunity to reclaim the land and a number of wahi tapu sites through a commercial transaction".

QUESTION OF VALUE
* King Country iwi Ngati Rereahu wants to buy two farms just south of Te Kuiti from Shanghai Pengxin.

* Tuwharetoa wants to buy one farm on the Napier Taupo Highway from the Chinese company.

* The iwi groups say the farms are worth a combined $45 million.

* They claim Shanghai Pengxin wants $66.5 million for them.

- NZ Herald

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