Former Natural Dairy boss Jack Chen bailed for $5m

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 05:00 15/11/2011

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Chinese businessman and former Natural Dairy executive chairman Jack Chen - who was involved in a failed bid to buy the Crafar farming empire from receivers - has been arrested and charged with accepting a HK$73 million [NZ$11.8m] bribe from May Wang.

Wang, the owner of UBNZ Asset Holdings, was arrested on October 17 for her part in the alleged bribery but Chen wasn't arrested until he returned later to Hong Kong.

Chen, also known as Chen Keen, failed to appear at a bail hearing and an arrest warrant was issued. A Hong Kong source at the time said Chen was in a hospital after a heart attack while staff at his Auckland office said he was overseas.

Chen is out on bail of HK$5m, as is Wang, and is allowed to travel outside of Hong Kong with prior permission from the city-state's business watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC].

ICAC laid the bribery charges that alleged between May 2009 and March 2010 Wang conspired to offer HK$73m and two Auckland properties to Chen in return for him getting Natural Dairy to acquire Wang's company, UBAH.

Chen was formerly executive director of Natural Dairy which is listed on the main board of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, though trading has been suspended in its stock for some time.

He is also charged with laundering the HK$73m proceeds of the alleged crime while Wang is charged with laundering NZ$150m worth of criminal proceeds.

The charges were filed after an investigation by ICAC in collaboration with New Zealand's Serious Fraud Office.

Both Chen and Wang have yet to enter pleas and will reappear for mention in the Hong Kong courts on January 18 next year "pending ICAC further enquiries".

In an exclusive interview with BusinessDay at the Natural Dairy headquarters in Hong Kong just over four months prior to his arrest, Chen said he no longer had any management role or shareholding in Natural Dairy.

He said he had "facilitated" a relationship between Natural Dairy and financial backers in China, which eventually extended to a relationship with Wang.

She had been in negotiations with farmer Allan Crafar before his farming empire went into receivership in 2009.

Negotiations continued with the farms' receiver but the Overseas Investment Office declined Natural Dairy's more than-$200m offer because the company failed the "good character test" required under legislation.

Chen had formerly been banned as a director in China and Wang was declared bankrupt last December with debts of around $22m, and will face criminal Companies Act charges in New Zealand next month.

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Records showed Wang owned two heavily mortgaged properties in Auckland one of which was sold by a Wang-related company, Sun Management, to a Natural Dairy-related company directed by Chen in June 2010.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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