One of the very few alleged “checks and balances” in the Overseas Investment Act is the requirement that the persons owning and/or controlling the applicant transnational corporation be “of good character”. Note that this only applies to individuals, not to the corporations themselves.
The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) has been making “not of good character” complaints to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) and its predecessor, the Overseas Investment Commission (OIC), since the late 1990s. It’s a long story. Here’s the link to articles about the subject on the Websites of CAFCA and Foreign Control Watchdog
Not one of our complaints has ever been even partly upheld – until now.
On December 8th, 2016, I wrote to the OIO: “In light of the New York Stock Exchange delisting Agria, we request that you investigate whether the people owning and/or controlling Agria are of good character, and whether they should be allowed to continue own and/or control PGG Wrightson. ‘Agria says it will fight New York Stock Exchange delisting’ . This is a quote from a New Zealand Herald article reporting the same thing: ‘The Exchange said it had uncovered evidence demonstrating that the company and its management engaged in operations ‘contrary to the public interest’ and not in keeping with sound public policy pursuant to requirement of Exchange’s Listed Company Manual’”.
Unlike when making an Official Information Act request to the OIO (or any other Government agency) there is no time limit that the OIO has to meet to answer a “not of good character” complaint. To this day, the OIO has not given CAFCA its decision about our Agria complaint.
But, right before Christmas (when news of this nature is traditionally, and quietly, released) the OIO included this in its cutely titled newsletter The PeriOIOdical (December 2018;):
“OIO investigation into Agria”
“The OIO has investigated the good character of Agria Singapore and former PGG Wrightson Chair Alan Lai in relation to Agria’s shareholding in PGG Wrightson”.
“Both Agria and Mr Lai have co-operated with the OIO investigation, following the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation”.
“The OIO, Agria and Mr Lai have reached a settlement agreement which required Agria to sell down below its 50.2 percent interest in PGG Wrightson (which it has now done in compliance with the agreement) and provided for penalty proceedings to be filed in the High Court”.
No acknowledgement of CAFCA’s role and the OIO hasn’t bothered to tell us but we’ll take the credit and chalk it up as a first. More please. The whole subject of “good character” is one that needs to be front and centre in the Government’s stage 2 review of the Overseas Investment Act, which is being undertaken this year.