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OIO review finds internet search faults

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 23/06/2016

The Overseas Investment Office needs to keep better records of internet searches it does as part of good character tests for prospective foreign buyers.

But on the whole, the OIO's systems for checking good character are sound and fit for purpose, an independent review has found.

Peter McKenzie QC was charged with reviewing the OIO's good character assessment after it emerged two Argentinian brothers who bought a Taranaki farm had been convicted of polluting a river in their homeland.

Rafael and Federico Grozovsky bought the 1320 hectare Onetai Station in Taranaki for $6 million in 2014 but had been convicted in 2012 after their Argentinian tannery leaked chemicals into a river.

At the time, OIO boss Peter Mersi admitted some information relating to the good character test and held by the office wasn't made available to the ministers who ultimately approved the sale.

In his review, Mr McKenzie said the OIO wasn't able to produce a copy of the 2013 internet search record relating to the Grozovsky brothers, which had in fact turned up something of concern.

"Websites are open to change and the information obtained some months earlier may no longer be available and, if not recorded, the evidence that may be needed later will have been lost," Mr McKenzie said.

He's recommended that the OIO maintain a register in which it keeps a copy of all internet searches, including dates and any relevant information gathered, so they can be referred to later if need be.

Further, he's stressed that the OIO needs to ensure that ministers who are making decisions on OIO recommendations are advised of any relevant factors raised by internet searches.

But Labour's land information spokesman David Cunliffe has labelled the review a whitewash.

"The biggest recommendation is to provide Google searches to the minister to help assess cases," he said.

"That is basic stuff and doesn't shore up the good character test. The changes must be much more comprehensive than that."

Mr Cunliffe said the good character test needs to be tightened up and this review hasn't done that.

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