In the sort of potential fallout we’ve not yet seen from the sexual misconduct scandals swirling within the industry, Matt Lauer’s ownership of a farm in New Zealand is being reviewed. The Overseas Investment Office is seeking further information about allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior that spurred Lauer’s ouster from NBC News this week. The former Today anchor owns a large estate on NZ’s South Island, and the local government places several stipulations on foreign buyers, including that they “must continue to be of good character.”
In a statement provided to Deadline by the OIO, Lisa Barrett, who is Deputy Chief Executive Policy and Overseas Investment, said, “The Overseas Investment Office is aware that allegations have been made in relation to Matt Lauer and that he is no longer working for NBC News in the USA. We are discussing this with his representative and are seeking further information. Matt and Annette Lauer, through the company Orange Lakes (NZ) Ltd, received Overseas Investment Act consent to purchase.”
The Lauers this year acquired Hunter Valley Station, a 10,800 hectare (about 27K acres) farm on what is billed as “sensitive land.” Local media put the price tag at about $9M. Under the February decision that approved the purchase, plans were to continue and enhance a sheep and cattle farming operation.
The decision also stipulates that the OIO must be notified within 20 working days if the “consent holder” ie buyer, “commits an offence or contravenes the law (whether convicted or not); or (b) any Individual with Control: (i) ceases to be of good character; or (ii) commits an offence or contravenes the law (whether convicted or not).”
The Act provides for civil and criminal sanctions for breach, failing to comply with the conditions of consent and failing to provide information required by the OIO which says it has an obligation to investigate and act upon alleged and suspected breaches of the Act. The body can enforce a sale if it determines that the “good character” requirement is not met. The requirement’s assessment involves the consideration of information relevant to the character of a buyer, with “credible allegations of offending or contraventions of the law” listed among the pertinent information.
This comes as tougher standards for sales of farmland to foreigners were unveiled this week in New Zealand as locals have lamented a growing influx of moneyed absentee owners, particularly in the Wanaka region which is home to Lauer’s property. Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal co-founder and adviser to Donald Trump previously controversially gained New Zealand citizenship, enabling him to circumvent the Office of Overseas Investment.
It would not be unprecedented to see a foreign individual hit with repercussions by the OIO, although in the case of U.S. wine fund manager Charles Banks, a criminal proceeding was at the heart of the matter. Lauer has not been charged of any crimes.
Banks is the majority shareholder of Terroir Capital which acquired the Trinity Hill winery in NZ in 2014 via its Terroir Winery Fund. After he was convicted of defrauding former NBA star Tim Duncan of millions of dollars, the OIO said, “A condition of consent required the ‘individuals with control’ of the Terroir Winery Fund (including Mr Banks) to remain of good character. In light of Mr Banks’ conviction and sentence, we consider that Mr Banks is not of good character.” The government body said in June that it was in discussions with Terroir’s reps about removing Banks “from having any interest in Terroir’s investment in New Zealand.”
Lauer for his part today issued an apology for the “pain” he caused others “by words and actions.” However, he claimed that some of the stories were “untrue or mischaracterized”.