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Investigation launched into whether Air NZ's work for Saudi military is legal

An investigation is underway into whether Air New Zealand has been breaking the law by helping the Saudi Arabian military. 

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Airline boss Greg Foran has spent the day apologising. Source: 1 NEWS

Airline boss Greg Foran has spent the day apologising after 1 NEWS revealed his company has carried out work for the Saudi navy - work the Government says puts our international reputation at risk. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is among the officials swiftly condemning the work.

"It just doesn't pass New Zealand's sniff test... Obviously this is something that has ramifications for New Zealand, its reputation," she says. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says he's "alarmed" by the revelation.

"I think most New Zealanders would find it unacceptable to be doing that work," he says.

Within hours of last night's 1 NEWS story, Foran was on the phone to the Government apologising, Robertson says.

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And the apologies kept coming.  

"I'm sorry, obviously it's occurred, and for our customers also our staff," Foran said today.

So how did Air New Zealand's gas turbines business end up working for the Saudi military, who are fuelling a humanitarian crisis in Yemen?  

Foran says it was a case of "bad" and "poor" judgement.

"We could have made better judgement on this and I welcome the fact there's now some scrutiny," he told 1 NEWS.

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Air New Zealand had been helping the Saudi military despite it fuelling a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Source: 1 NEWS

When asked whether it was legal, Foran said they're looking into it now.

"That's something that we're working through with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the moment, so we've been in dialogue with them over the last 10 days," he says.

Asked if the company has blood on its hands, Foran says: "Air New Zealand, as I mentioned right at the beginning, is actually working through this in a very sensible way."

Officials are now investigating whether the airline breached our export control rules.

The third party contract for the Saudi navy work was actually signed in 2019 - before Foran was in charge. 

If it happened during Christopher Luxon's time as boss, he says he didn't know about it. 

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"I have no recollection of it, it might have postdated my time," the now National MP says.

"It's good to see that they've come out and admitted this morning, yes, there's an error of judgement and they're wanting to do something about it and stop that, which is great."

Some say the incident should be a wake-up call for the Government. 

"We would absolutely like to see the Government develop a national plan to ensure human rights are respected in our business dealings," Human Rights Commission's Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo says.

Despite Air New Zealand's apology, there could be serious consequences on the way. 

Export permits are required for companies exporting strategic or sensitive goods.

It is highly unlikely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will approve exports that could be involved in undermining "peace and security" or goods that could be used in "a serious violation of international law" or "serious violation of human rights". 

Air New Zealand did not have export control permits for the engines it was exporting to the Saudi Navy.

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Greg Foran says the deal was signed off below executive level in 2019, before he took charge of the national carrier. Source: 1 NEWS

"Officials are working to ascertain if the engines require an export permit," a spokesperson for MFAT says.

MFAT's website says: "For a company, penalties can be a fine up to $100,000 or an amount equal to three times the value of the goods."

In its own statement tonight, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Wellington said it "strongly refutes the suggestions in this story that the Saudi Arabian Navy has been blockading Yemen", claiming to be the "largest humanitarian supporter to Yemen".

"The Kingdom is proud to be the strongest supporter and friend of the Yemeni government," it says.

"Through humanitarian and other assistance, we will continue to work with our allies towards alleviating the humanitarian situation, and implementing a sustainable political settlement."

A naval and air blockade has been in place in Yemen since 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition, severely restricting the flow of food and medicines to civilians.

Around 20 million people need help securing food, half of them considered "one step away from famine", according to the United Nations.