McCully plan raises hackles

EXPRESSING CONCERNS: Ross Meurant has business interests in Syria.
EXPRESSING CONCERNS: Ross Meurant has business interests in Syria.

Controversial Kiwi businessman and former cop Ross Meurant has come out swinging at proposals by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to make it easier for New Zealand to ignore the United Nations when imposing trade sanctions on other countries.

Meurant, a polarising figure since his days as head of the notorious police "Red Squad" during the 1981 Springbok Tour, says McCully is seeking to "demonstrate his subservience to America's blueprint of who should rule the world", and if New Zealand gains the right to impose autonomous sanctions, it will be used to stifle trade with countries the US does not approve of, such as Syria.

McCully told the Sunday Star-Times his proposal, if approved by his cabinet colleagues, wouldn't come to pass for at least a year and is not yet aimed at any particular country. He said if passed, his proposal would follow the lead of legislation passed in Australia last year (which has allowed them to impose autonomous sanctions against Iran, Myanmar, Fiji, North Korea and Zimbabwe).

McCully denied the proposal would mean New Zealand was snuggling up to the United States, as New Zealand runs "an independent foreign policy, and we make up our own minds". He noted, however, that Syria is indeed one example of a country where the United Nations Security Council appears "unable to agree on any sort of resolution".

More than 8000 people have died in the past year in Syria, as the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad seeks to crush public protest. US-led attempts to impose sanctions through the UN Security Council have repeatedly been blocked by vetoes from Russia and China.

Retired diplomat Terence O'Brien said restoration of a good working relationship with the US is one of the stated objectives of the National government, and McCully's proposal could "certainly" be seen in that light.

"There are people in the present government who would like to push us more into a de facto miliary alliance relationship with the United States."

Meurant has a particular interest in Syria because since 2007 he has been involved in an abalone aquaculture project there. Six months ago he began setting up a business exporting phosphate from Syria to New Zealand for agricultural use, but the deteriorating political and security situation halted those plans.

While New Zealand currently has no restrictions on trade with Syria, Meurant says US restrictions on financial transactions with Syria make things complicated.

"I was thwarted by the US financial transactions blockade in making payment in US dollars to Syria for a sample container of phosphate."

In recent years Meurant has courted controversy with strong criticism of the police over its handling of the 1970s Crewe murder case and the 2007 Urewera "terror" raids.

He has business interests in countries including Russia, the Czech Republic, the Middle East and Balkan States.

Sunday Star Times