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Businessman Earl Hagaman dies

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/05/2017

Tourism magnate Earl Hagaman, who recently sued Labour leader Andrew Little for defamation, has died aged 92.

The Scenic Hotel Group owner died at his Christchurch home on Thursday, surrounded by friends and family.

"He was a visionary and loved this country," his wife of 26 years, Lani Hagaman, said in a statement.

American-born businessman Mr Hagaman bought his first hotel in the South Island's West Coast with friend Ralph Brown after falling in love with New Zealand during a visit in 1980.

From that hotel - now the 130-room Scenic Hotel Franz Josef, he went on to create the largest New Zealand-owned hotel chain, Scenic Hotel Group - which employs about 1000 staff across the Pacific.

"He put all his energies into developing New Zealand's tourism industry, as well as bringing much needed jobs and income into the regional economy where most other hotel companies did not want to take that risk," his family said.

Mr Hagaman was in 2014 made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to tourism and philanthropy and in 2009 was awarded the inaugural New Zealand Hotel Industry Achievement Award.

"Scenic Hotel Group continues to operate like a family and he was our king," Mrs Hagaman said.

"There will never be another Earl. I loved him immensely."

The pair recently made headlines after suing Labour leader Andrew Little for defamation over comments Mr Little made linking a donation they gave to the National Party and a government-led contract awarded to Scenic.

During the trial in April it was revealed Mr Hagaman was thought to only have weeks to live.

Last month Mrs Hagaman said she would continue the claim of defamation on Mr Hagaman's behalf after Mr Little was cleared of defaming her and claimed a partial victory against Mr Hagaman.

The Hagamans were reported to have been worth about $180 million in 2014.

Mr Hagaman is survived by fifth wife Lani, their three children and four children from previous marriages, a spokeswoman said.

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