Mfat briefing requested before Oravida dinner

Last updated 18:05 02/05/2014

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Justice Minister Judith Collins' office initially asked for a foreign affairs briefing before a controversial dinner in China with Oravida representatives and an unnamed border official.

Collins has insisted the dinner was a private affair with no official business discussed.

However, documents released to Fairfax Media under the Official Information Act show that five days before the dinner her office sought the briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat).

An October 15 email from her office noted:

"On Sunday, October 20, the minister will be having a dinner that will include (redacted name). He has agreed to meet with the minister arranged by Mr Stone Shi, Oravida. The minister would like ambassador Carl Worker and his wife to attend this dinner. A briefing from Mfat will be required."

Worker did not attend and the dinner went ahead with Collins, her official, Oravida executives Shi and Julia Xu and the Chinese official present.

But later emails show that Collins' office declined Mfat assistance and said no briefing would be required.

The New Zealand embassy in Beijing asked about the dinner and said it assumed the booking would be made by Shi. It also asked if transport was required.

Collins' office replied nothing was required from Mfat.

"The minister is having a private dinner on the Sunday evening."

Mfat's China unit policy officer, Nicholas Clutterbuck, advised that "while the dinner can be regarded as private, the minister cannot make unplanned/uncommunicated travel movements around Beijing during her stay".

Asked today why there was an initial request for a briefing before the dinner, and then it changed, Collins said:

"My office naturally asks for briefings for everything but it was a private dinner so it wasn't needed."

Labour MP Grant Robertson said today the documents showed the dinner was not private.

"It was a dinner with an official and was clearly seen as having an official purpose," Robertson said.

"The bottom line is she still met with this person who clearly could have had an influence over Oravida exports."

He said that in the wake of Maurice Williamson's ministerial resignation yesterday "Prime Minister John Key must act in the same way with Collins".

But a spokesman for Key said "absolutely nothing had changed" as a result of the new information.

The documents also show Collins specifically asked for the two Oravida representatives to be invited to a lunch event.

Mfat officials had offered the lunch or a dinner as either/or options for meetings with Oravida but the Oravida representatives attended both.

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Collins also went to Oravida's offices for what the documents referred to as a "tour".

Collins has downplayed the visit and said she called in on the way to the airport.

When she first sought approval from Key in August she said the trip would allow her to call on "senior counterparts in the [Chinese] Ministry of Justice" and that a programme was being arranged. No mention was made of Oravida or any trade-related meetings at that stage.

The cost was estimated at $36,000.

She later asked for permission for her husband, David Wong-Tung, who is a director of Oravida, to also go on the trip.

That was granted, but her office later advised he would not be going.

The emails show her office asked for briefings including for the "Oravida Call" and as well as biographical notes on everyone," including for the visit to Oravida (i.e. Stone Shi and Julia Xu)".

But officials said they would not send "bios" of Shi and Xu "as these people were on the minister's guest list, so assume she knows them well already".

Her office had also asked why the dinner was not on the visit programme.

Key in March rebuked Collins for not coming clean about the dinner earlier.

The cumulative effect of her dealings with Oravida had created a perception of a conflict of interest, he said.

- Stuff

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