25 Jun 2016

Police checks on investors possible - Minister

7:39 am on 25 June 2016

The Land Information Minister is willing to consider police checks for some applicants seeking to buy sensitive land or assets in New Zealand, she says.

Wellington police station.

Wellington police station. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A review of the good character test for Overseas Investment Office (OIO) applications has found it is essentially sound, but further improvements were being explored.

The review was ordered after the OIO had to apologise to its minister for failing to conduct a robust inquiry when it approved the sale of Onetai Station in Taranaki to two Argentinian brothers.

Rafael and Federico Grozovsky were found criminally responsible for chemical dumping from their tannery near Buenos Aires, but that was not passed on to the minister.

The lawyer who did the review, Terence Stapleton QC, recommended "that vigilance be undertaken by the OIO and its supervising staff to ensure that relevant factors raised by internet searches on any relevant overseas person be advised to ministers or other relevant decision maker, when the OIO recommendation is issued".

Mr Stapleton recommended the OIO keep a full record of internet searches.

He also said the OIO could look at requiring police checks from applicants, covering the previous five years, but was he not presenting it as a formal recommendation, as such a requirement would come with its own difficulties.

"In some jurisdictions a police check can take considerable time and add to the length of the process," he said.

And because applications often involved "high profile persons", Mr Stapleton said the request for a police check "could create tensions and be perceived as offensive".

In light of those considerations, Mr Stapleton said it was best left to the Office to decide for itself whether to go down that path.

Land information minister Louise Upston said she would look at that option.

"I think it may be suitable in some instances," she said.

"I'm not sure that just blanket application and police checks for every single application though is where we would want to land."

Ms Upston said it was too early to talk about what kind of applicants might be asked to go through a police check.