The backlash against Matt Lauer in New Zealand is so strong he is being blamed for the ban on foreign homebuyers.
In response to runaway real-estate prices, the New Zealand government voted Wednesday to bar most non-citizens from investing in homes.
The vote came just three weeks after Lauer, in his first interview since losing his job and his marriage, spent 20 minutes on Radio New Zealand defending his ownership of Hunter Valley Station, a 27,000-acre merino sheep and cattle ranch on a mountain lake.
Lauer, who spent $9.2 million in February 2017 on the ranch, is being accused of denying access to a public wilderness area that can only be reached by a dirt road that crosses his ranch.
“Isn’t it actually that you want to control this beautiful piece of land?” RNZ’s John Campbell said. “Why the hell should Matt Lauer have access to this land when we [Kiwis] have to jump through hoops to get onto it?”
Lauer said his opponents demanding access are “unfortunately taking advantage of some difficult times I’ve been through over the past six months, and I think they see me as an easy mark.”
Lauer’s lawyer William Zabel had no comment.
In June, the New Zealand government finished its investigation of whether Lauer was “of good character,” as required in his lease agreement, and decided Lauer could keep the ranch.
A government spokeswoman said, “Mr. Lauer has not been charged with any offense, nor convicted, and the evidence . . . does not establish that Mr. Lauer is unfit to continue to hold the asset.”
But that doesn’t mean he is popular Down Under. “Matt Lauer is the poster child for the kind of absentee foreign owners the Kiwis don’t want,” said one source. “But he is just one of thousands.”
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