A controversial 2016 meeting between then-trade minister Todd McClay and a Chinese horse-racing mogul had a last-minute shift of venue to McClay's Beijing hotel suite, meaning his ministry could no longer send anyone to take notes.
Mogul Lang Lin, whose Rider Horse group is a big player in live horse exports from this country, visited McClay a year later - in April 2017 - at his Rotorua electorate following which Rider Horses' New Zealand subsidiary made a $150,000 donation to the National Party.
In August the Herald broke news of McClay involvement in the donation - the mongol hoard being the National Party's largest haul realised during the 2014-17 term - triggering a still-running debate in Parliament about foreign donations in New Zealand's electoral system.
Documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, following multiple delays blamed by the ministry of foreign affairs and trade on "consultation" and "processing", include emails describing how the venue change for the July 12, 2016, meeting caught officials off guard.
Nicholas Cutterbuck, a second secretary at the New Zealand embassy in Beijing, broke the venue change to other officials just before noon. McClay and Lang had been scheduled to meet at 3pm at the New Zealand embassy later that day.
"Arrangements for this afternoons meeting have changed. The minister has requested it move to his suite at the St Regis. This puts a limit on numbers to six ... this means we won't have a note-taker in the meeting," Cutterbuck said.
In a written response to questions from the Herald, McClay said any suggestion the venue change was to avoid scrutiny was "false and misleading" innuendo.
"The venue was changed because of traffic logistics as Beijing traffic is extremely crowded and slow ... Travel times between the hotel, embassy, hotel and reception venue would have been considerable," he said.
Maps of Beijing show the distance between the embassy, where the 3pm meeting with Lang was originally planned, and the ambassadors' residence, where McClay was due to attend a racing industry cocktail reception that evening at 6pm, is only a few city blocks: 1.6 kilometers, or a 15-minute walk.
"Embassy staff were present at the meeting, including the deputy Ambassador. At no time was any support or donation raised with me during my visit to China. I would also reiterate that this donation was fully publicly disclosed and declared as required by the electoral act and is consistent with New Zealand electoral law," McClay said.
The hotel meeting was attended by McClay, his private secretary Chris Langley, deputy ambassador David Evans, a representative from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise along with Lang and his executive assistant.
The NZTE representative did take brief notes of the meeting, circulated in a half-page email. A copy of these notes provided to the Herald was almost entirely redacted over concerns releasing the material might prejudice international relations, personal privacy or commercial confidentiality.
In one of only four unredacted part-sentences the official records: "Minister asked Mr Land any obstacle or challenge of doing business in NZ, Mr Lang said that so far so good."
Briefing notes provided a year later for foreign minister Winston Peters, who met some Rider Horse representatives in Beijing during an official visit, noted the relatively small scale of NZ-China horse exports.
The value of the industry was approximately $40m a year, with several hundred horses air freighted annual, but was growing 20 per cent annually.
The briefing notes said the Chinese industry was keenly anticipating regulatory changes in Beijing. Gambling on horse-racing is illegal in China, although concessions had historically been granted to Macau and Hong Kong.
In April 2018 it was announced a further concession had been extended to Hainan. Rider Horse completed a racecourse in Khorchin, with seating for 12,000 people, in apparent anticipation of these concessions being extended further still.
In September representatives for Lang told the Herald they had been considering a donation to New Zealand First. Peters in turn denied discussing or receiving any donations from Rider Horse.
Justice select committee deliberations on the adequacy of New Zealand's electoral finance laws - which presently ban foreign donations, but allow them from New Zealand-registered companies even if they are foreign-owed - are overdue but are expected to soon present a bipartisan report on proposed reforms.