World News

Lauer Can Keep New Zealand Ranch, Despite Inquiry Into Conduct

Posted June 8, 2018 9:34 a.m. EDT

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Matt Lauer, the former “Today” show co-host who lost his job over sexual misconduct allegations, will be allowed to keep his ranch in New Zealand, after a government agency said Friday it did not have sufficient evidence he had breached a good-character test for foreign property buyers.

But a spokeswoman for the Overseas Investment Office, which started an investigation after Lauer’s firing in November into his fitness to hold the lease of the 16,000-acre ranch, said it would continue to “monitor the matter” and could revisit the case “should further information come to light.”

Lisa Barrett, the spokeswoman, added that the agency “did not condone the inappropriate way” that Lauer had behaved while at “Today,” the long-running New York-based morning news program on NBC.

Lauer, who had been a co-host at “Today” for two decades, was fired after a colleague complained about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. A subsequent internal review found that other women had lodged complaints about Lauer’s behavior.

Along with his wife, Annette Lauer, Matt Lauer bought the lease to Hunter Valley Station, a ranch off the shore of Lake Hawea in New Zealand’s picturesque South Island, through a New Zealand-based company in February last year. Local news reports put the price at $9.2 million.

At the time, Lauer would have passed a good-character test required for foreign buyers who are purchasing large tracts of land. New Zealand’s definition of good character is broad, and officials considering whether Lauer had breached it were allowed to take into account evidence of “offenses or contraventions of the law,” even if a crime had not been committed.

In its investigation, the Overseas Investment Office, which had been alerted by the former television host’s representatives to his firing, took statements from Lauer and NBC.

The agency said Lauer had publicly admitted to past relationships with co-workers but denied any accusations of “coercive, aggressive, or abusive actions.” It noted that the former NBC star had not been charged with a crime.

Barrett, the spokeswoman, said Lauer had made further sworn statements in his defense that could not be made public. But she said investigators had to rely on his “accuracy and truthfulness.”

The office noted that NBC’s internal investigation had focused on the broadcaster’s response to workplace misconduct complaints, rather than Lauer’s specific conduct. That inquiry, which was criticized for what some saw as NBC’s lack of thoroughness in investigating itself, found no wrongdoing in the news division’s handling of Lauer’s case.

While New Zealand investigators had also reviewed “troubling” allegations about Lauer on social media platforms, Barrett said, her office could not rely on “unverified material or allegations made on social media.”

Barrett said that in Lauer’s case, the office did not find any information that raised a “legitimate concern” that he might use his position to “replicate behavior” that would affect his fitness to hold the lease on the New Zealand property.

The office also noted that Lauer lived primarily in the United States, not New Zealand, and was not involved in the ranch’s daily operations.

“We are conscious that the NBC investigation team has stated that it remains interested in hearing from any person who may have further information for it,” Barrett said.