7 May 2010

Inquiry into purchase of Crafar farms re-launched

11:16 pm on 7 May 2010

The Overseas Investment Office has re-launched an investigation into the purchase of four farms previously owned by Crafar family interests.

The farms in southern Hawke's Bay, Taranaki and Manawatu were purchased in February this year by companies with links to Chinese businesswoman May Wang, who also wants to purchase 16 other Crafar farms in receivership.

The companies are UBNZ Assets Holdings and UBNZ Funds Management.

The Overseas Investment Office says it carried out a preliminary investigation in February, which it put on hold until a retrospective application was made. However, no application for consent to buy the farms has been received.

Under law, consent from the office is required by people from overseas intending to purchase sensitive New Zealand land.

The Overseas Investment Office says part of the investigation, expected to take several months, will involve establishing whether a breach of the Overseas Investment Act has been committed.

However, May Wang says she is confident the purchase of the four farms was within the law as she is a New Zealand citizen and, as the company UBNZ is 80% owned by the New Zealand-based UBNZ Trustee Company, the purchase complies.

She says the investigation could slow down the remainder of the overall deal, which would invest up to $1.5 billion in the New Zealand dairy industry.

Ms Wang says if New Zealand does not want the investment, her company will take it elsewhere.

Crafar attempts to raise money overseas

Allan Crafar, whose family farms are about to be put on the market in a forced sale, says he is still trying to raise the money to take the farms out of receivership.

Receivers KordaMentha are selling 13 dairy and three dry stock farms in the central and lower North Island that were operated by companies owned by Allan, Beth and Frank Crafar.

They were placed in receivership in October last year, with debts estimated at more than $200 million.

The farms are expected to be advertised next week, in New Zealand and overseas, and tenders will be open to 23 June.

The real estate firm organising the sales, Bayleys, says there has already been a high level of interest from potential buyers.

But Allan Crafar says he is negotiating with overseas interests to provide the funding to clear the debts before the farms are sold.

Mr Crafar says he is following a couple of different options and is a "fair way down the track" with one. He is not revealing the identity of the overseas interests.

In the meantime, the receivers say they are still in the process of taking court action to enforce the trespass notices they have served on the Crafars.

The receivers are trying to remove them from three family homes on two of the farms in the Reporoa area.

While they are still on the farms the Crafars have no income, but Allan Crafar says they are getting by with are making ends meet with the help of donations from the community.