Ashburton mayor Angus McKay is under fire over his handling of failed attempt to set up a water bottling plant in the region.
An email obtained by Newshub suggests he knew Chinese investors were involved in the deal, despite saying he had "no knowledge" of who was backing the purchase of a block of council land, which carries consent to draw 40 billion litres of water over 30 years.
The prospective buyer was named as local company NZ Pure Blue, which intended to set up a water bottling plant.
The deal sparked a public outcry, and on June 30 Mr McKay told reporters the sale was to a New Zealand company, saying, "If there is anyone behind it, I have no knowledge of it, and neither do my councillors."
Newshub has obtained an email through the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), which suggests Mr McKay met a Chinese businessman four months prior.
The email, sent to Ashburton District Council business manager Paul Brake by NZ Pure Blue on March 2 of this year, thanks the mayor for meeting "our group", saying it's "very important for Chinese businessman to meet Mayors and dignitaries [sic]".
In an interview this week, Mr McKay said he was introduced to "Chinese advisors", not investors. He went on to say that while the deal was with NZ Pure Blue, he was told that "there would be overseas investment in it".
"On the day, each time I made a comment, that was the state of play at that day," he said.
Ashburton mayoral candidate Donna Favel, his only opposition in the coming election, says she'll push for an investigation.
"I will present that to my chief executive and I will follow the process and see if there's anything that needs to be held to account."
The sale of the land and its water rights eventually fell through.