National is calling on the Auditor-General – the Government's spending watchdog – to investigate minister Shane Jones' involvement in a Government funding bid by a forestry company with NZ First ties.
Recently released documents reveal a representative of NZ Future Forest Products Ltd (NZFFP) – whose directors include NZ First Leader Winston Peters' long-time lawyer Brian Henry, and Peters' partner Jan Trotman – made a "presentation to the minister" about its forestry and wood processing plans "including descriptions of the applicant".
NZFFP was bidding for funding from the Government's $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) – that bid was ultimately unsuccessful.
• NZ First-linked company in government loan bid says it met with Shane Jones
• Forestry firm Claymark Group tipped into receivership, 500 jobs on the line
• Premium - Claymark Group receivership a shock to staff
Jones – the Forestry Minister and the minister responsible for the PGF – has always maintained he first heard about NZFFP's $15 million funding bid in October last year.
When he learned of the bid, he declared a conflict of interest.
But the NZFFP documents reveal a presentation to the minister was made in April last year.
David Henry, who is Brian Henry's son and the NZFFP director who signed the PGF application form, told RNZ the presentation was a 15-minute meeting between he and Jones in Wellington.
"It was a short discussion generally about the New Zealand wood supply chain and what we personally believed."
Jones, however, is adamant that he has never spoken to anyone from NZFFP about the company's PGF application.
"There was no presentation as described by the applicants," a spokesperson for Jones said in a statement.
Jones was "not involved in PGF-related conversations with the Henrys under the guise of NZFFP".
"The minister had been aware of the Henrys' wood processing ambitions for some time but can confirm, yet again, that the minister had no knowledge of any PGF application from NZFFP until 14 October, 2019."
National's regional development spokesman Chris Bishop has called for the Auditor-General to investigate to get to the bottom of the issue.
"If Shane Jones received a presentation from the company about its project in April 2019 then it's hard to square that with his claim in Parliament that he had 'no idea' about the company's existence until October 14."
He said not declaring a conflict of interest immediately was a "clear breach of the rules governing ministers".
"The process surrounding the Future Forest Products application doesn't pass the sniff test. The look of it is wrong and that's why it's right for the Auditor-General to investigate."
The Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams said the NZFFP saga was "turning into an absolute farce."
"It's time the Prime Minister stepped in or appointed someone to get to the truth of the matter. Taxpayers need confidence that the whole process isn't an old boys' slush fund."