John Key and his vineyard investments

  • Breaking
  • 26/05/2010

Prime Minister John Key once said his blind trust was "so blind I haven't got a clue what's in it".

Mr Key put his assets in a blind trust soon after taking power in late 2008. It basically means someone else takes control of his assets. He knows nothing about what's going on, and therefore is protected against being accused of conflicts of interest over what he owns.

It only takes a trip on the Tube for others to get to Key's hidden assets. Yes, it was the London Underground that helped unlock Key's blind trust's holding in the Highwater commercial vineyard in Central Otago for my story tonight.

Mr Key's blind trust is down in the Register of Pecuniary Interests as the Aldgate Trust.

The Companies Office shows Mr Key and wife Bronagh initially purchased their share of the vineyard in their own names on September 8, 2008. In November he became Prime Minister.

On December 22, their one-tenth share of the vineyard was transferred to Whitechapel Limited. This is about when Mr Key was putting his assets in the Aldgate Trust.

Those who know London well will, of course, know that Aldgate and Whitechapel are both Tube stations in the East End.

Whitechapel Limited's constitution says it is set up to manage a trust - which appears to be Aldgate. It has shares in other assets on the public record as Mr Key's - the Earl of Auckland property company, and the Dairy Investment Fund.

It is important to remember here that Mr Key is hiding these assets from himself. It is to prevent controversies like Tranzrail and his "sloppy" ownership of shares in a company that was mining for uranium.

But back to wine. Mr Key gave away 240 bottles of Pinot Noir as presents last Christmas.

They were branded JK - PM's Pinot. That name is being trademarked by Andrew Nugent, a friend and fellow shareholder in the vineyard.

The Prime Minister told me that he'd asked Mr Nugent to trademark the name PM's Pinot for future use so he could keep giving wine away as presents....and he didn't want others to exploit the name.

The label on PM's Pinot says "Highwater Vineyard" but Mr Key told me that it's a totally different wine ... It's actually from the Sleeping Dogs vineyard....a nice drop too.

Companies Office checks would have shed little light on his blind trust's involvement with Highwater unless you were aware Whitechapel Limited was a vehicle for the trust.

This byzantine trail continues with Highwater Vineyard. The physical vineyard is owned by the Highwater Vineyard company (still under its old name of Devil's Creek on the records). But it is actually part of Mt Michael Wines, although this is a separate company with slightly different shareholders and Whitechapel Limited is not involved.

It is a rising star on the Central Otago wine scene and has parachuted in the highly-regarded John Belsham as winemaker.

Mr Key's barely said a word about his initial involvement with the vineyard publicly. But he was clearly proud of it, given his comments to renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson in early 2009 soon after it had gone into the trust.

Whitechapel Ltd is one of eleven shareholders in Highwater. Five of the shareholdings can be linked to some of the biggest supermarkets in the North Island.

The Law Commission has just reported back with its recommendations for alcohol law reform and the Government is about to respond making decisions on liquor laws. Everything except tax increases (which it ruled out before the ink was dry on the report) is up for change, from the drinking age to licensing hours.

Mr Key assured me today that he knows nothing of what's in his blind trust and issued a statement.

That, in part, says : "I set up the blind trust after becoming Prime Minister so I didn't have any conflicts of interest through my investments, and that is the case because I don't know what my investments are.

"To the best of my knowledge, the only people who can be certain what assets the blind trust owns are the trustees, and anything else is mere speculation."

Aldgate to Whitechapel, then Highwater to Mt Michael... Only wine and politics could bring Central Otago and the East End of London so close together.

DISCLAIMER: Patrick Gower was given a bottle of the "PM's Pinot", which he was grateful for. He gave it to a relative soon afterwards and well before research on this story began. It had long been drunk when he checked back.

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source: newshub archive