Trade Minister Tim Groser has confirmed he has been spoken to by the inquiry into the leak of a Foreign Affairs Ministry Cabinet paper.
It emerged yesterday that Mr Groser is to seek the top job at the World Trade Organisation.
It is understood Mr Groser's conversations with top civil servants about proposed restructuring at Mfat have become a focus of Paula Rebstock's investigation. Mr Groser is alleged to have expressed reservations about the controversial proposals to a number of people.
Mr Groser said last night he had had a "preliminary discussion about two or three months ago" with Ms Rebstock but had not been asked to formally appear.
Earlier in the day, The Dominion Post put a number of questions to Mr Groser about the inquiry but was told by his office that he was travelling overseas and was unable to respond.
Less than two hours later, news broke that he was putting his hat in the ring for the WTO job.
By phone, Mr Groser refused to confirm that he was going for the trade post. "I'm just about to get on a plane. I'm not in a position to talk about that."
He said: "You know far more than me . . . I've no idea what's going on with the inquiry."
Asked if he had expressed concerns to public servants about the plans, he replied: "I have senior conversations with public servants all the time. Thanks very much, I'm getting on the plane now."
Staff summoned to see Ms Rebstock have been asked about their conversations with Mr Groser. Sources say she is also interested in his staff and those working in the prime minister's office and for Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.
A limited number of people, understood to be about 10, had access to the Cabinet paper.
Ms Rebstock was appointed in May by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to lead the inquiry into the leak to Labour's Phil Goff. But the scope of her inquiry was later widened to cover "all the relevant background facts surrounding the development of the Mfat change programme".
That included "the environment within which Mfat was operating during this period" and "who may have been responsible for earlier unauthorised disclosures during the development of the Mfat change programme".
Mr Goff said that he could "scarcely blame" Mr Groser for speaking out and he called on the Government to end "the witch- hunt".
"What was being opposed was universally opposed because it would create long-term damage within the ministry.
"I have no insights into what Tim Groser might have said to anyone but Tim Groser is a former employee of Mfat and he would have known that this was a botched restructuring plan.
"The section of Mfat most strongly opposed was the trade negotiations division that was answerable directly to him.
"My hope is he did speak out."
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said Mr Groser was "considering whether to indicate his availability or not for the WTO role . . . if he were to do so, he would have the prime minister's and the Government's full support.'
Should Mr Groser, a list MP, take the top job at the World Trade Organisation - which sets global trade rules - it would create a vacancy in Parliament.
Speaker Lockwood Smith is also likely to leave this year to take up a job as High Commissioner to London.
Both posts would be filled by appointing the next candidates on National's list: former MPs Aaron Gilmore and Paul Quinn.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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