Mayor in new Chinese venture

NAOMI ARNOLD
Last updated 13:00 30/11/2012

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Chinese e-commerce opportunities that Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio has been touting as being great for Nelson businesses also look set to make money for the mayor himself.

Mr Miccio says there is no conflict of interest between his mayoral work in developing Nelson-Chinese business and his chairmanship in a new venture, NZ Inc Shop.

It intends to sell New Zealand products through Tmall.com, a subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

"It's complicated and I know it will cause speculation but without a doubt it's all above board," Mr Miccio said.

"I believe there is no conflict ...

"The NZ Inc Shop story is an extremely positive story, for not only Nelson, but New Zealand."

This year ratepayers paid more than $10,000 to send Mr Miccio on trips to China in March and September to help develop connections for Nelson businesses.

He went because China valued the role of mayor, Nelson Economic Development Agency (EDA) chief executive Bill Findlater told the Nelson Mail before the first trip.

It included a delegation of local businessmen and saw Mr Miccio and Mr Findlater visiting e-commerce capital Hangzhou, where they met Alibaba's president.

"The potential for our region from this single company visit could be exceptional," Mr Miccio wrote in a trip blog.

The meeting was set up by Auckland-based Yong "York" Zhang, chairman of New Zealand Chinese Youth Chamber of Commerce, who Mr Miccio met through an EDA-arranged business visit to Nelson last year.

Mr Zhang is now a co-director and chief executive of the New Zealand-registered NZ Inc Shop, of which Mr Miccio is chairman and co-director. The other directors are Auckland-based Weidong He and Paul Gerald Hu.

After the first trip, Mr Miccio told The Nelson Mail that local small to medium businesses could have a new opportunity to sell into China in an e-commerce deal that was "groundbreaking stuff".

Nelson would be at the forefront of the opportunity, with the rest of New Zealand to become included, he said.

Mr Miccio and Mr Findlater visited China again in September. On his return, Mr Miccio told the Mail that a New Zealand-based company was facilitating the e-commerce deal - but failed to mention that by then, he was personally involved in it.

Mr Miccio said this week that he and Mr Findlater only landed in Hangzhou on the second trip, and did not meet any e-commerce representatives.

Both visits were about furthering connections for Nelson businesses, he said.

Mail inquiries have revealed that between the two trips Mr Zhang asked Mr Miccio to first write a business model and then be chairman of their new company, which was incorporated on August 23.

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Companies Office records show 15 per cent of NZ Inc Shop is held by Mr Miccio, his parents Cristina and Raffaele Miccio, and his wife, Kimberley, through Nelson-based company Bissi Ltd, of which Mr Miccio is sole director.

In response to the paper's inquiries, Mr Miccio issued a media release celebrating his new company as "a coup for New Zealand", which would launch in February.

It said that NZ Inc Shop had secured a New Zealand-made products e-shop on Tmall.

Last year Tmall averaged 3000 inquiries per day for New Zealand products and had a total half-yearly turnover of about NZ$4 billion that was forecast to grow by 25 per cent.

Tmall figures available online show it is expecting its total transactions to surpass US$7.85 billion (NZ$9.54b) in 2012.

Mr Miccio would not name any Nelson businesses involved with NZ Inc Shop, but said they had "a number of New Zealand companies ready to go".

Mr Miccio said there had been no council crossover and he had never spent any council time on NZ Inc Shop. Instead, it was his past personal business experience in China that had led to his involvement. He said nothing he had done on the council trips "added value" to his role in NZ Inc Shop now.

When he met Alibaba in March, "it was unknown to me what future proposal I would receive four months later from York and his colleagues."

Mr Miccio said his new job was "a big role".

"It will mean I will have to sacrifice a lot of my personal time to get this up and running, and I firmly believe you need to be fairly rewarded for the work you do. I have no problem being remunerated for being the chairman of the company.

"Of course there's going to be speculation about it all but hopefully people can see through, that this is separate outside other interests, private business, a lot of mayors have them, and this just so happens to tie in well where it's going to be game-breaking for New Zealand, let alone just Nelson.

"It's going to be huge benefits in terms of jobs and companies here [and] so it's a great opportunity to be asked to chair it. It's a great offer that I couldn't refuse and it was an exciting opportunity that I wanted to be a part of."

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said he had spoken to Mr Miccio about the company.

"I can't really see a problem with it," he said.

"You have to be careful in this but mayors get asked to do lots of things to try and promote the interests of New Zealand and business."

He said he could not answer why Mr Miccio took a personal stake in the company.

"He told me it was a small personal stake".

TIMELINE

2011 (date unknown): Mr Miccio meets Yong "York" Zhang at EDA meeting, who sets up a meeting with Alibaba in e-commerce hub Hangzhou.

March 2012: Mr Miccio and Nelson delegation visit Chinese cities including our sister city, Huangshi, and Mr Miccio and Mr Findlater meet Alibaba in Hangzhou.

April: Mr Miccio tells The Nelson Mail e-commerce opportunities with China will be "groundbreaking" for Nelson.

July: Mr Zhang asks Mr Miccio to join NZ Inc Shop as chairman.

August: NZ Inc Shop incorporated.

September: Mr Miccio and Mr Findlater return to China on council business.

October: Mr Miccio tells The Nelson Mail "a New Zealand company" will be furthering an e-commerce deal with China.

November: Mr Miccio announces his involvement with NZ Inc Shop.

- The Nelson Mail

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