Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has defended his connection to the head of collapsed construction company Mainzeal after their relationship was criticised in Parliament.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has repeatedly questioned the relationship between the Government and Mainzeal since the company went into receivership last week, threatening 200 jobs.
He believed the Government knew of the firm's difficulties but continued to give it lucrative contracts in rebuilding Christchurch. Yesterday, he highlighted Dr Sharples' relationship with Richina Pacific chief Richard Yan, whose company owned Mainzeal.
Dr Sharples took a $10,000 donation from Mr Yan before the 2011 election, and has been a strong supporter of the Chinese-born businessman's proposal to build New Zealand House in Shanghai.
Mr Peters said these actions raised serious questions about the integrity of government negotiations. "This is another example of big business influencing government decisions behind closed doors."
He said Mr Sharples and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully both refused to release correspondence with Mr Yan under the Official Information Act.
Dr Sharples would not be interviewed yesterday but said, "I know Richard through work I have done with Mainzeal to establish trade training programmes, and also through his work with New Zealand House. I have also declared that he donated towards my election campaign in 2011."
His statement added: "I have no formal relationship with Mainzeal, no current dealings with them or with Richina - but my thoughts go out to the people who have lost their jobs, and those who have been affected by the collapse of the business."
Dr Sharples and Mr McCully were in a delegation to Shanghai in June. Dr Sharples praised Mr Yan's proposal to develop New Zealand House, a Shanghai building to host New Zealand government agencies and businesses such as Fonterra. At the time he described New Zealand House as "an enormous, generous gesture".
The project is now in doubt.
In the House, Mr Peters noted Richina Pacific was delisted from the New Zealand stock exchange in 2009 for "inadequate corporate disclosure" and financial losses, which should have given the Government a sign of Mainzeal's potential struggles.
He also questioned why Mr Yan had last year made public statements about New Zealand House before it was confirmed by the Government.