The Serious Fraud Office says it's investigating transactions between would-be Crafar Farms buyers Natural Dairy Holdings and UBNZ based on information received from the Overseas Investment Office.
The 16 Crafar farms, New Zealand's largest family owned dairy business, were put into receivership last October owing about NZ$216 million to their lenders Westpac, Rabobank and PGG Wrightson Finance after interest.co.nz revealed animal welfare issues at the farms.
Receiver KordaMentha signed a sale and purchase agreement with the Chinese backed Natural Dairy/UBNZ group led by businesswoman May Wang, which is conditional on Overseas Investment Office approval and thought to be worth about NZ$213 million. The deal does, however, leave the door open for KordaMentha to accept a better offer or offers.
Meanwhile, the Overseas Investment Office said it would now be unable to provide a recommendation to the relevant government ministers on whether consent should be granted to the applications by Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Limited and UBNZ Assets Holdings Limited to purchase the Crafar Farms.
The OIO also said it would carry on with its own investigations into the purchase of four farms by UBNZ in February 2010.
Natural Dairy issued a statement late on Thursday saying it was cooperating with the SFO and was confident it would discover no irregularities.
Here is the release from the SFO
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) today confirmed that, acting on information received from the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), it had commenced an investigation into transactions between Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Ltd (Natural Dairy) and UBNZ Trustee Ltd; UBNZ Assets Holdings Ltd; UBNZ Funds Management Ltd (the UBNZ group)
SFO Chief Executive, Adam Feeley, said “We have received information from the OIO, together with materials received from other sources, to be satisfied that a “Part I Investigation” under the SFO Act is warranted; that is to say that an investigation into transactions involving Natural Dairy and the UBNZ group may disclose serious or complex fraud.”
The transactions in question are the proposed sale and purchase of a number of dairy farms (commonly know as the “Crafar farms”) currently in receivership.
Mr Feeley said that the SFO was conscious of the possible impact of its actions, and for this reason the initial investigation would be carried out with all reasonable haste.
“After the initial investigation and report, we will decide whether there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence involving serious and complex fraud may have been committed and, if warranted, undertake a further, in-depth investigation under the powers of Part II of the SFO Act.”
Mr Feeley said that due to commercial and other sensitivities, the SFO would not be commenting further on the matter until the investigation had concluded.
The Overseas Investment Office released this statement
Today the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced an investigation into business transactions involving Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Limited, UBNZ Assets Holdings Limited and UBNZ Funds Management Limited. This follows information provided by the Overseas Investment Office.
“Until the SFO investigation is concluded, the Overseas Investment Office will be unable to provide a recommendation to the relevant Ministers on whether consent should be granted to the applications by Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Limited and UBNZ Assets Holdings Limited to purchase the Crafar Farms,” said Annelies McClure, Manager of the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
The OIO will continue to co-operate with the SFO as required.
The OIO will continue its own investigation into the purchase of the four farms by UBNZ Assets Holdings Limited in February 2010.
Natural Dairy released this statement.
Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Ltd says it will cooperate fully with any investigation by the New Zealand Serious Fraud Office into its commercial transactions with UBNZ associated entities. “Our company has nothing to hide and we are confident the SFO will discover no irregularities in the transactions we have accomplished in New Zealand”, says Graham Chin, Vice Chairman of Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Ltd. Natural Dairy understands the SFO has called this a “Part One Investigation”.
This means that it is simply attempting to ascertain whether any wrongdoing has occurred in relation to the purchase of the Crafar farms. Again, Natural Dairy stresses that its operations and activities have been entirely lawful. Natural Dairy is grateful that the SFO say this will be a speedy investigation and the matter is likely to be resolved quickly. The company remains confident that its purchase of the Carfar farms will proceed and Overseas Investment Office approval will be granted once this matter is resolved.
It should also be noted that, until the SFO made its media release this afternoon, Natural Dairy had no knowledge of the SFO’s interest and it has not received any communication from the agency. Natural Dairy will be making no further comment on this issue until the successful outcome of the SFO’s inquiries.
(Updates with OIO statement, adds background, adds Natural Dairy statement).