Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Water to wine for Russian

Mikhail Khimich.  Photo / Supplied
Mikhail Khimich. Photo / Supplied

A secretive russian billionaire who was allowed to buy 10ha of sensitive land on the condition he build a water bottling plant will instead construct a private winery.

Mikhail Khimich abandoned plans to expand Waiwera Water after an outcry from residents, including former All Black Walter Little, who were horrified about an industrial factory on idyllic rural land.

Now the Auckland Council has approved plans to build the Waiwera Organic Winery on the site. In submissions to the council, consultants working for Khimich said the organic winery would include a kitchen and tasting area, which would be closed to the general public.

"It is intended to be a private, exclusive and low-key operation. The use of this facility will not be available or open to the general public," planners wrote.

Alexander Kirichuk, a director of the Waiwera Organic Winery, said the plan would create benefits for New Zealand, such as export earnings and employment.

Khimich has just spent three months in New Zealand overseeing expansion plans while living on his $30 million super yacht Thalia. "Mikhail pays a lot of attention and a lot of time on this project."

Documents released under the Official Information Act show Khimich's advisers promised the bottling facility would create job opportunities, export earnings and benefit New Zealand's relationship with Russia.

The Overseas Investment Office refused to release background information about Khimich, saying it accepted he and other Russian executives were of good character.

Khimich made billions of dollars through oil and gas interests after the breakup of the former USSR. Kirichuk said his boss had no criminal history and paid taxes.

"He is a very generous man. He could have gone to Australia or the Pacific Islands to invest his money, but he came here."

Khimich has two further applications pending with the OIO to increase his investments in New Zealand companies. Other expansion plans at the Waiwera Thermal Resort include a five-star restaurant and a home for Khimich.

Last week, residents of a camping ground affected by the development, including a 90-year-old war veteran, were evicted to make way for the restaurant. Camp ground manager James Schwartz said those ousted were rehoused in units.

Khimich bought the Waiwera thermal resort and the associated camping ground in late 2010 for $10m, according to property records. He owns a 60 per cent share and previous owner John St Clair Brown owns 40 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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