Saudi lamb death report won't be released

  • 13/11/2015

A government agency is refusing to release a report on the death of hundreds of lambs sent to Saudi Arabia.

The Government used taxpayer money to fly 900 pregnant ewes to a desert farm owned by Saudi sheikh Hmood Al Ali Khalaf.

Nearly all the lambs died, and there has been no explanation.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise sent its officials to investigate and they wrote a report, but the agency won't release it under the Official Information Act.

The minister in charge of the agency, Steven Joyce, says it was prepared on the basis of commercial confidentiality.

NZTE says the report was prepared for Mr Al Khalaf.

At Radio New Zealand's request, Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem is investigating NZTE's reasons for refusing to release it.

Mr Joyce says NZTE has already released "a large amount of information".

"The report in question was created on a `commercial in confidence' basis and they want to respect that," he told NZ Newswire.

"The Ombudsman is now looking into that decision. Ministers were advised of the agency's decision not to release, but had no part in that decision."

NZ First leader Winston Peters says it's outrageous.

"The public paid for it and that gives them the right to know," he said today.

"This was an appalling, cruel incident and if we're going to make sure it doesn't happen again we need to know what happened."

Labour's David Parker also believes the public has the right to know what is in the report.

"It's hard to accept that the taxpayer, having funded these New Zealand public servants to fly all the way to Saudi Arabia and look at why the lambs on this so-called model farm in the desert died, can't see what the outcome of that report was," he said.

Sending the pregnant ewes was part of a $11.5 million deal to set up an agrihub on Mr Al Khalaf's farm to showcase New Zealand expertise.

The deal included a $4m payment to Mr Al Khalaf, and was done to appease him because he lost millions when the export of live sheep for slaughter was banned in 2007.

Mr Khalaf was standing in the way of a free trade agreement with Saudi Arabia, which still hasn't been signed.