The financial dealings of New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser are under scrutiny amid revelations he owns thousands of shares in a Uruguayan-based dairy company that he actively promotes as part of his job, according to the NZ press.
Although the shareholding had been given the legal tick-off by the Cabinet office, the Minister had never publicly declared those shares.
New Zealand Farming Systems uses Kiwi know-how to develop dairy farms in Uruguay and Tim Groser stands out among its hundreds of shareholders. The shareholder register showed he owned 40,000 shares, which are currently trading at around 55 cents - potentially a 22,000 USD investment.
Groser said he had made no attempt to conceal that and just followed the NZ standard rules of disclosure. He acknowledged he had not publicly declared the shares but said if anyone had asked me I would have told them.
However no one would have known to ask because the shares aren't recorded in the Register of MPs' interests, which is designed to ensure they don't use their position for personal financial gain.
Labour's Chief Whip, Darren Hughes, said the only reason not to declare them was because Groser might have had something to hide from it.
Forty-thousand shares is significant, said Hughes.
The record simply notes that Groser has a superannuation scheme and it's that scheme that manages his shares.
The distinction here is, in a legal sense, I don't own shares. A trust, of which I am the beneficiary, owns the shares and it's standard practice for all trusts not to note the nature of the investments, Groser said.
He said he told Cabinet officials about those shares and was reassured everything was fine. And that has satisfied the Prime Minister.
”(I'm) absolutely and 100% comfortable. I've had advice from the Cabinet office that fully supports Mr Groser's position. He's declared all of his interests as is required, John Key said.
But Groser's position as Trade Minister involves trying to influence how well New Zealand companies do overseas and just three months ago he travelled to Uruguay, meeting with representatives of the very company he owns shares in.
He's meant to be the Trade Minister negotiating for the country, not for himself, Hughes said. But Groser denied claims he could benefit.
Unfortunately I don't have the capacity to make the share price move by having lunch with somebody who's the employee of a company.”
But the opposition is demanding he ditch the shares.