Shane Jones has been grilled in Parliament about when he knew that a New Zealand First-linked company had applied for funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
Jones, a New Zealand First MP and Minister for Regional Economic Development, oversees the $3 billion PGF fund of which $2.5 billion has so far been committed.
The minister was questioned in Parliament on Thursday about a particular application on April 4 to the PGF for $15 million by a company called NZ Future Forest Products, which Jones had to declare a conflict of interest in.
It was revealed on Monday that the company applied for funding from the PGF, despite the company's founding director Brian Henry being NZ First leader Winston Peters' lawyer and a friend of Jones.
The revelation prompted National MP Chris Bishop to call for an investigation by the Auditor-General into the company's dealings.
The company's application was unsuccessful. But Bishop is concerned about the six-month space between when the application was made on April 8 and when Jones declared a conflict of interest on October 14.
Bishop tried to get Jones to admit that he knew about the company planning for a PGF bid long before he declared a conflict of interest, but Jones wouldn't budge, emphasising that he became formally aware on October 14.
It followed confusion at a select committee briefing on the PGF on Thursday morning, when the head of the Provincial Development Unit, Robert Pigou, told Bishop Jones knew about the application before he declared his conflict of interest.
When Bishop asked him to confirm, he retracted his statement, saying: "I didn't intend to say that."
"Ministers don't get updates on every project in the system," Pigou told Bishop. He said there have been as many as 1400 applications for PGF funding, and many of them don't advance.
"Quite a lot holds on the timeframe because the minister we learned in question time declared on 14 October that he had a conflict in relation to decision-making responsibilities over the project," Bishop said.
"What we're trying to establish is when the minister was advised that the project was in train."
The Provincial Development Unit said in a statement that NZ Future Forest Products' application was declined by ministers - excluding Jones - on November 7.
It confirmed that at no point did the Provincial Development Unit seek a decision from Jones on the company's application for PGF funding.
Bishop now claims to have learned that NZ Future Forest Products emailed Jones about forestry matters on September 21, suggesting he was "more in the loop than he is letting on".