The charges former Crafar farms bidders May Wang and Jack Chen face in Hong Kong are similar to those they would have faced in New Zealand but with potentially stiffer penalties.
As a result of a joint investigation by New Zealand's Serious Fraud Office and Hong Kong officials, Wang and Chen have been charged with corruption and money laundering.
SFO chief executive Adam Feeley said Wang had been arrested in Hong Kong, while Chen failed to turn up for a bail appearance and a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He is understood not to be in Hong Kong but the local authorities believe they know where he is.
While most of the leg work for the investigation was done by the SFO, it was decided to charge the pair in Hong Kong after detailed discussions with that country's Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Hong Kong still worked on a British-based legal system so the charges were not dissimilar to those they would have faced in New Zealand, but with the potential for more severe sentences, Feeley said. ''It was part of the reason we felt comfortable not charging here,'' he said.
Wang, who fronted Natural Dairy's unsuccessful bid for the Crafar farming empire, has been charged over the alleged payment of secret commissions and money laundering in New Zealand.
Her co-accused Chen, also known as Chen Keen, was the other businessman involved in the Crafar bid.
Three charges were laid yesterday by the ICAC against Wang, now known as May Hao. The former frontwoman behind UBNZ Asset Holdings faces one count of conspiracy to offer bribes to an agent and two counts of dealing with property known or reasonably believe to represent the proceeds of crime.
The conspiracy charge alleges that between May 2009 and March 2010 Wang conspired with Chen, then executive director of Natural Dairy, and other people to offer two Auckland properties and over HK$73 million ($11.8 million) to Chen. The bribe is alleged to have been offered as rewards for Chen to procure Natural Dairy to acquire UBAH, a company owned by Wang.
The additional charges relate to the alleged money laundering of $150m crime proceeds between December 2009 and December 2010.
Following the charges, NZX-listed Genesis Research and Development Corp said it was cutting ties with UBNZ Funds Management.
In a statement released on the NZX today, the biotech company said today's announcement comes in the wake of Genesis and UBNZ discussions to inject capital into the ailing company and extend its ownership in the company.
UBNZ already owns a 16.3 per cent in the company having loaned it $250,000 last year through a convertible note offering as well as a previous $466,000 cash injection.
At the time of the alleged offence. Natural Dairy was listed on the main board of the stock exchange of Hong Kong.
The SFO began its investigation in September 2010 when the Natural Dairy bid to buy the Crafar farms in 2010 was being assessed by the Overseas Investment Office. ICAC opened a separate investigation into Natural Dairy after receiving an allegation of corruption.
SFO boss Adam Feeley said the SFO considered charging the matter in New Zealand given it believed there was clear evidence of offending having occurred here. ''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.''
Natural Dairy is said to be involved in manufacturing and exporting dairy products from New Zealand into China. Neither Chen nor Wang currently hold any official office within Natural Dairy.
Chen had struck a deal to import millions of litres of noni juice from Samoa into China in a venture being overseen by former All Black Michael Jones.
Jones' involvement is through Pure Pasifika. At the time Jones said he was aware that Natural Dairy had a ''rocky history''. The company was suspended from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange for many months.
Staff at Chen's Auckland office today said he was overseas and they could not provide a contact number for him.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you think New Zealand should open the door to genetic modification in agriculture?Related story: GM in NZ on farming leaders' agenda