Exclusive: Secret Overseas Investment Office investigation into Matt Lauer's good character revealed

Newshub can reveal the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), which regulates foreign investment, kept a high-profile seven-month investigation out of public view.

Officials investigated the good character of former American broadcaster Matt Lauer, who controls a leasehold near Wanaka, after historical allegations of rape.

Lauer's axing from American TV screens was swift and decisive, first revealed by his very own co-anchors at NBC in 2017 after allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Since then, the OIO, part of Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), conducted two investigations into Lauer's good character.

Newshub can reveal details of the 2019 investigation that were previously unknown until now.

2019 Investigation 

In Ronan Farrow's book Catch and Kill, further details came to light about the allegations Lauer raped a colleague during NBC's coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

That sparked the OIO to open an investigation into the claims made in the book and whether he breached conditions of his consent to own the leasehold at Hunter Valley Station.

Officials engaged John Dixon QC in October 2019 who wrote to Lauer's legal team asking for information about his role within the management of the station, a response to the allegations in the book, and any submissions about whether the OIO should or should not take enforcement action.

Lauer's Queenstown-based lawyer Graeme Todd who co-directs Orange Lakes, the company which owns the leasehold, replied saying Lauer "strongly denies the allegations".

"We find it somewhat of a surprise that the OIO would launch an investigation into our client's good character based on salacious allegations set out in a book by an author who is widely known as having been in an ongoing feud with NBC for a number of years."

He added: "We consider it inappropriate and misguided for the OIO to assess good character based on unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activity."

Following the divorce between Lauer and his wife Annette Roque, she resigned as one of the directors of the ownership company, Orange Lakes, in November 2019.

"I confirm that no monies are owing to me by the Company whether by way of fees, salary or otherwise, and that I have no other claims of any nature against the Company," she wrote.

Officials said the claims of rape were "concerning" but decided the OIO wasn't "in a position to substantiate these allegations" and issued a compliance letter, closing the investigation in May 2020.

Its senior solicitor also sent the following email to Lauer and his lawyer.

"We have deferred making proactive media comments at this stage, noting agencies are placing prominence on COVID-19-related messaging in the current circumstances.

"We ask that you and Mr Lauer also defer any proactive public comments on this matter."

Newshub asked why this investigation wasn't publicly notified.

"We do not publish the details of investigations where we have taken no action, as that could be prejudicial to the party concerned," LINZ head of regulatory practice and delivery Rebecca McAtamney told Newshub. "This is standard practice."

TODAY Show co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Kotb announce Matt Lauer's firing.
TODAY Show co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Kotb announce Matt Lauer's firing. Photo credit: NBC

2017 Investigation

Soon after Lauer was fired in November 2017, the OIO launched its initial investigation into his good character.

Documents obtained by Newshub reveal officials asked NBC Universal directly for in-depth information in relation to the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour with a colleague, including about the button under his office desk.

"We also understand that Matt Lauer had a button in his office which enabled him to shut his office door without him leaving his desk. We have been informed that the installation of a button at NBC is common," the letter said.

"We have also been informed that the button does not lock the door from the inside and does not prevent anyone from leaving the office from the inside.

"We would be grateful if you could confirm or otherwise clarify any errors in this description for us."

The request also asked for "all documents and information relating to the complaint(s) or allegation(s) of inappropriate sexual behaviour and/or sexual harassment" and "all documents and correspondence relation to NBC's investigation into the complaint(s) or allegations(s)".

In April 2018, NBC Universal challenged the request and if the OIO had the jurisdiction to ask for what it wanted, saying parts of the request "have no basis in law".

"We understand that it is not clear from the Act whether the OIO can rely on its  information-gathering powers under section 39 in circumstances where a person or an organisation and their information is based outside New Zealand," senior litigation counsel Patrick Gilfillan responded.

The organisation provided limited information but did include an internal note sent to staff by NBC News chairman Andy Lack. A copy of that note was redacted.

The OIO told Newshub even if the information it asked for was provided, "any decisions to take enforcement action must be made on the available evidence. We do not speculate on what action would be taken on hypothetical evidence".

In June 2018, officials determined "we have reached the position that the evidence available to us at this time is insufficient for us to take court action for a breach of the conditions of the consent".

Hunter Valley Station.
Hunter Valley Station. Photo credit: Sotheby's

Consent Conditions

Approval for the leasehold of Hunter Valley Station came with strict consent conditions, including to spend $1.2 million to undertake the capital expenditure, submit an annual report every year for the first five years and allow public access.

That reporting period ended in November 2022.

"The biggest challenge and frustration Orange Lakes and its lessee has had is the Queenstown Lakes District Council refusing to carry out repairs to Meads Road and continuing to close the same often for extended periods which restricts both farm access and access to the public to  Hunter Valley," Orange Lakes co-director Graeme Todd said.

"Having completed the five-year investment plan, a budget is currently being drawn up  for  ongoing improvements to the property over the next five years."

One consent condition around preventing cattle accessing the Hunter River Flat was still being worked on at the end of the reporting period.

"The reality of the situation in the Hunter River Valley is no land occupier or owner, be they the leasee, the Crown or the freehold neighbours, can guarantee the exclusion of grazing animals from their respective estates entering other land," a 2022 agribusiness report highlighted.

The OIO told Newshub it is satisfied that the consent holder is taking all reasonable steps to meet its consent conditions.

No charges have ever been laid in relation to the allegations against Lauer, who declined Newshub's interview request.

"If charges were laid against Mr Lauer, LINZ would open an investigation into his ongoing suitability to hold the sensitive assets subject to his consent," McAtamney warned.