Kiwifruit giant Zespri is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.
It comes after Zespri's Chinese subsidiary was fined almost $1 million and had an employee jailed for five years over the underpayment of customs duties on kiwifruit imports between 2008 and 2010.
The SFO confirmed to Fairfax Media yesterday that an investigation into the Zespri Group has been launched.
A spokeswoman said it was in its preliminary stages but refused to reveal further details.
The SFO focuses on investigating serious or complex fraud, alleged fraud involving multiple victims or when the sum of money lost exceeds $2m, or the alleged crimes have significant legal or financial complexity beyond the resources of other law enforcement agencies.
Zespri, the single-desk operator that controls the country's $1.6 billion kiwifruit industry, was unaware it was under investigation.
"Zespri has not been contacted by the SFO and has no details of the scope or substance of an investigation. Zespri will co-operate with any investigation . . ."
The legal issues in China were the result of a system where Zespri was issuing dual invoices for kiwifruit shipments - one for the true value of the fruit and one for a second, lower amount, for customs purposes.
Zespri has maintained it was not acting illegally, saying dual invoicing was common in the fruit industry, but admitted it had been warned in 2008 the practice could lead to the arrest of its employees and was a "reputation risk" to New Zealand.
It was also revealed staff had raised concerns about the invoicing. Zespri has since changed to a fixed price arrangement. A Chinese importer used by the company over that period admitted underpaying duties and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Neil Trebilco, president of the Kiwifruit Growers Association, which is carrying out its own investigation into that matter, said he was surprised to hear about the involvement of the SFO.
"I'm surprised the SFO are doing such an inquiry because I haven't seen anything to suggest they should have done something like that."
The "real concern is that people might say well Zespri must be guilty of something here if the SFO are looking into it and I'd say that's not necessarily the case at all".
The association hoped to report back to growers on its own investigation before Christmas though it was being hampered by the ongoing legal process in China as further appeals were possible.
Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor said he was "very concerned that there would be any matters worthy of investigation into one of our major primary industry exporters".
The industry had already been hit by the vine disease Psa "and the last thing growers will want to hear is that there has been any possibility of untoward or illegal behaviour anywhere in the supply chain". Fairfax NZ
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