Minister dines with big money

MICHAEL FOX AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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It's a relationship which brought the famously tough Justice Minister Judith Collins to tears and earned her a stern rebuke from her boss, Prime Minister John Key.

The close personal friendship between Collins, her husband David Wong-Tung, mega-rich businessman Deyi "Stone" Shi and his business associate, Julia Xu, was thrust into the spotlight this week as Collins faced allegations of a conflict of interest over her meetings with the two Oravida directors.

She was disciplined by Prime Minister John Key for not disclosing sooner a private dinner with them during a trip to China.

The links include Wong-Tung being appointed to the board of five of Shi's Oravida group of companies and she has revealed that Shi and Xu have spent Christmas with her family.

But the controversy has turned attention on to Mr Wong-Tung's business skills and the international investment empire of Shi - who paid $39 million last year to buy the former Hotchin mansion in Auckland's swanky Paritai Drive.

Wong-Tung has been described by those who know him as a capable and well-connected "battler", who has benefited from his wife's position.

The former policeman and barrister has stayed largely out of the public eye despite her high profile, though he has featured on a number of business boards.

Attempts to speak with Wong-Tung were rebuffed. Collins' office declined to help arrange an interview and when a reporter visited his house yesterday, Collins answered the door and said Mr Wong-Tung did not do interviews.

Repeated attempts to contact Shi and Xu were also unsuccessful, with their office saying they were overseas.

Companies Office records show Wong-Tung is a director of Oravida NZ Wine Ltd, Oravida Kauri Ltd, Oravida NZ Ltd, Oravida Property Ltd and Oravida Ltd.

He is also listed as a director of NZG 2010 and Pacific 28 Ltd, linked to another Shi vehicle, and has previously held a number of directorships. He was also appointed by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce to the board of the Manukau Institute of Technology in 2010, and was reappointed last April until 2017.

Wong-Tung, who holds a Masters in Business Administration, is one of four ministerial appointments on the board.

Fellow council member Dr Stuart Crosbie said Wong-Tung had been reappointed because of his ability.

"He's a valued member of our board and he came in for a lot of flak when he was first appointed to the board because of his association . . . with a minister of the Crown, but he was appointed in his own right and he's been very competent.

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"If he weren't married to Judith Collins I would be just as comfortable with him serving as an MIT council member as I am with him being married to her. I don't actually consider that a factor in evaluating his performance."

Council chairman Peter Winder said Wong-Tung brought "substantial connections" with the Pacific community in Manukau.

"And that's a fundamental and really important part of the council's operation given the community that we serve."

Private investigator Clinton Bowerman, a friend of Wong-Tung until the pair fell out, said Wong-Tung had worked hard to make his way in business and had faced extra barriers due to his Samoan and Chinese heritage.

"He is definitely a driven Auckland battler."

Wong-Tung's Chinese ancestry gave him stronger links with that community, rather than the wider business community, he said.

When quizzed last week, Collins said her husband had met Shi through mutual friends and that he deserved his appointment. "My husband is a very capable businessperson, lawyer and . . . he's obviously a great person to have there because he's a very experienced, very personable person."

Wong-Tung has been involved with Business Mentors New Zealand and the BEST Pasifika Leadership Foundation and has acted as an honorary special adviser to the prime minister of Samoa, where he helped the clean-up efforts after the 2009 tsunami.

Collins, Wong-Tung and their son James between them own five properties worth more than $3m, including a $2.15m house in St Heliers, their $1m home in Maraetai and an investment property on the Nelson waterfront bought for $270,000.

But their wealth is dwarfed by Shi's.

He is the ultimate owner of the exporting and property development companies in which Wong-Tung is the director, according to Companies Office records.

At the top of the tree, Shi has full control as the sole director and dominant shareholder through Kauri Investments. Its associated trustee company is ultimately held through Auckland accountants Gilligan Sheppard's nominee company.

It appears Shi has other investments around the world, with one linked to the Cayman Islands. However, Shi did not reply to requests to verify the information.

United States Securities and Exchange Commission records show a Deyi Shi, also referred to in the documents as Shi Deyi, beneficially owned 7,270,752 shares in listed solar wafer firm ReneSola - a firm in which Oravida's managing director, Julia Xu, has in the past been an executive.

They show that at the end of 2013 Shi's beneficial ownership fell below 5 per cent, in combination with his daughter Wendy Shi, to 3.6 per cent. At current prices the share parcel is worth about US$12.5m (about NZ$14.6m).

The documents show Shi owned the shares through Superpower, a Cayman Islands company. "Superpower is indirectly held by The Deyi Shi Trust of which Shi is the settlor. The trustee of The Deyi Shi Trust is Amicorp Trustees (Singapore) Limited."

They also refer to Shi as a citizen of the People's Republic of China.

- The Dominion Post

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