Unsuccessful Crafar farms bidder May Wang charged in Hong Kong with conspiring to bribe officials

Unsuccessful Crafar farms bidder May Wang charged in Hong Kong with conspiring to bribe officials

May Wang and Jack Chen targets of Hong Kong corruption probe

Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption has charged Auckland bankrupt May Wang with conspiring to bribe officials with two New Zealand properties and money laundering, and has issued a warrant for the arrest of Jack Chen for his role in the scheme.

Wang, who is now known as Hao May, faces one count of conspiracy to offer advantages to an agent and two of dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence, the ICAC said in a statement yesterday. She will appear at the Eastern Magistracy today.

Chen failed to report to the ICAC yesterday, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The anti-corruption unit alleges Wang and Chen, known as Chen Keen, conspired between May 2009 and December 2010 to offer two Auckland properties and more than HK$73 million to Chen as payment for procuring Hong Kong exchange-listed Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings to acquire UBNZ Asset Holdings, which was owned by Wang.

Two other charges allege between December 2009 and December 2010 Wang deal with the sales proceeds to UBNZ Asset Holdings, including two convertible notes worth NZ$150 million, which represented proceeds of an indictable offence.

Wang’s UBNZ unsuccessfully tried to buy the central North Island Crafar family farms last year, which it then would have on-sold to Natural Dairy, having its application to the Overseas Investment Office turned down after failing to meet ‘good character’ tests.

UBNZ is still supplying milk to Natural Dairy after buying a facility in Tauranga, though Wang, who was bankrupted for her role in a previously failed business venture, is no longer affiliated with the companies, according to Companies Office documents.

The ICAC thanked New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office for its assistance in the investigation. The ICAC was set up in 1974 to reign in rampant corruption in Hong Kong’s public sector, according to its website.

UBNZ has been looking at increasing its investment in local biotechnology Genesis Research & Development. The New Zealand company today said it doesn’t intend on proceeding with any further business dealings with UBNZ.

Read the SFO's statement below:

One person associated with a bid to purchase the farm assets of the Crafar family (the Crafar farms) has been charged in Hong Kong, and an arrest warrant for a second person has been issued, following allegations of corruption involving the payment of secret commissions and money laundering.

Three charges were laid yesterday (Monday, 17th October) against May Hao (formerly known as May Wang) by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). May Hao (Wang), the former operator of UBNZ Assets Holdings Limited (UBAH), faces one count of conspiracy to offer advantages to an agent and two counts of dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent proceeds of a crime.

An arrest warrant was also issued against co-accused, Chen Keen (also known as Jack Chen) following his failure to appear in relation to his alleged role in the case. The conspiracy charge alleges that between May 2009 and March 2010, the defendant conspired together with Chen Keen, then an executive director of Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Limited (Natural Dairy), and other persons to offer two properties in Auckland and a sum of over HK$73 million to Chen. It is alleged that these were offered as rewards for Chen to procure Natural Dairy to acquire UBAH, a company owned by the defendant.

The additional charges relate to the alleged laundering of NZ$150 million in crime proceeds between December 2009 and December 2010. At the time of the alleged offence, Natural Dairy was listed on the Main Board of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. The charges follow a joint investigation into the company undertaken by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in New Zealand and ICAC in Hong Kong.

The SFO commenced its investigation in September 2010 when the Natural Dairy bid to purchase the Crafar farms in 2010 was being assessed by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO). ICAC opened a separate investigation into Natural Dairy after receiving an allegation of corruption.

SFO Chief Executive Adam Feeley said that contact with ICAC early in the SFO investigation made it obvious for the two agencies to work together on the matter.

“There was information in both countries that was vital to the investigation, and this outcome would not have been possible without early and ongoing collaboration.” Mr Feeley said that the SFO gave consideration to charging the matter in New Zealand.

“We believe that there is clear evidence of offending having occurred in New Zealand. However, the alleged crimes were primarily directed at Hong Kong and Chinese investors and we therefore consider it is more appropriate for the authorities in Hong Kong lay the charges.

“We assessed what possible charges may have been laid in New Zealand, and believe that the action being taken by ICAC fully deals with the concerns we identified in the course of our investigations.”

Natural Dairy is involved in manufacturing and exporting dairy products from New Zealand into China. Chen Keen was a director of Natural Dairy and its subsidiaries until October 2010. Neither he nor May Hao (Wang) currently hold any official office within Natural Dairy. Mr Feeley said that the case highlighted the increasingly cross-jurisdictional nature of the SFO’s work.

“The digital age makes it increasingly easy for financial crimes to be committed in more than one country, and highlights the need to have alliances with international law enforcement agencies. “ICAC and the SFO have forged an excellent relationship from this case, and our law enforcement capabilities in the future will be strengthened by this.”

(Update adds SFO statement).

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