27 Jan 2016

Saudi abattoir deal will proceed - PM

1:59 pm on 27 January 2016

The New Zealand Government still intends to give a $3 million abattoir to Saudi Arabia despite being concerned by the mass executions there this month.

Prime Minister John Key talks to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif.

Prime Minister John Key talks to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif of Saudi Arabia. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

In his weekly post cabinet press conference yesterday, Prime Minister John Key said the government was deeply concerned about the 47 executions the Saudi government carried out at the start of the month.

"Firstly because we don't support the death penalty under any circumstances, secondly because we think it heightened tensions in the region - particularly with Iran," Mr Key said.

But Mr Key said the abattoir would still be sent.

"We don't have any plans to change what we're doing in that area, it's not to the Saudi government per se, it's to an investor and it's the establishment of an agricultural hub in Saudi Arabia."

Saudi law prevents private ownership of slaughterhouses so the New Zealand-funded abattoir will be given to the Saudi government - which will then lease it back to the Saudi businessman, Hamood Al-Ali Al-Khalaf, on whose farm it will be built.

Mr Al-Khalaf was angry when New Zealand stopped live sheep exports on animal welfare grounds in the early 2000s and was blocking a free trade deal with the Gulf States.

The abattoir is to be delivered to his farm in the Saudi desert as part of the government's multi-million dollar deal to placate him.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said he thought the public would be outraged.

"I think that most New Zealanders will be pretty appalled .......funding was going from us directly to the Saudi Government - especially given that the entire agrihub was essentially a bribe to a Saudi businessman to keep him happy in the first place," Mr Shaw said.

"This is not a regime that we want to be giving favourable treatment to."

Labour MP David Parker said the public would be dismayed by the deal going ahead.

"I think most New Zealanders would be appalled that the New Zealand government is giving $3m to the Saudi Arabian government, which is not a poor government, for an abattoir on a farm in the desert, in the same week that these terrible human right abuses are occurring with these mass executions in the street."

The government is refusing to release reports into mass lamb deaths that occurred at the Saudi agrihub, shortly after it flew 900 heavily pregnant sheep there.

The Auditor General is investigating the government's deal with Mr Al-Khalaf.

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