A leading public sector chief executive accused by Labour of covering for the Government has now admitted that wording in a memo was "not helpful" and open to misinterpretation.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise chief executive Peter Chrisp said that, in hindsight, the wording in board papers on a controversial farm set up by the Government in Saudi Arabia was not helpful.

But he denied he had misled a commerce select committee.

Labour seek apology from leading CEO


"What was said to the select committee was accurate. Neither the project, nor the funding were suspended in August 2015 and the project continues and is in implementation mode."

When questioned at the commerce select committee last week by MP Clare Curran, Mr Chrisp denied that spending on the agri-hub had been suspended.

But that answer contradicted a memo included in papers Labour received last year under the Official Information Act.

A memo from an unnamed person to Paul Stock, a deputy chief executive at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), refers to a report written by the chief executive for an NZTE board meeting on August 20 and says "You may want to note the report's discussion [ ... on the agri-hub ... ] and that further spending is currently suspended."

Labour's David Parker said Mr Chrisp and NZTE chairman Andrew Ferrier, who appeared with him at the select committee, must apologise.

Last night, Mr Chrisp issued a statement that said the use of the word suspended in the papers was not helpful.

"The board papers should have said that further payments were delayed until matters in relation to the abattoir development were resolved in Saudi Arabia. There was no active suspension by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise at any stage.

"Board chairman Andrew Ferrier has confirmed that the board did not interpret the word suspended to mean anything other than waiting for permitting by the Saudi Government to be completed."

This morning, Mr Parker told Radio New Zealand he remained unhappy over the matter, and had put in a motion for Mr Chrisp to be recalled to appear before the select committee, "and answer these questions properly".

"Public servants get it in their ear if they ever criticise their ministers ... I think that they [NZTE] have been given a hospital pass with this terrible arrangement, which I think besmirches our reputation for fair dealing in the world."

The agri-hub deal is at present being investigated by the Auditor- General, Lyn Provost.

The deal was designed to mend diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in the wake of a ban on live sheep shipments which left a Saudi investor out of pocket and disgruntled.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the deal was above board and was subject to scrutiny by Foreign Affairs' legal division.