28 Jan 2012

Crafar pledges fight to get his farms back

10:02 pm on 28 January 2012

Allan Crafar has vowed to get his farms back, and says he will be taking legal action against the Government's decision to approve a bid by a Chinese investor to buy 16 farms in receivership.

It's also been revealed the company, Shanghai Pengxin, is looking at buying another New Zealand business interest.

The Government approved the bid with conditions including investing more than $14 million in the farms to make them more economically and environmentally sustainable. Shanghai Pengxin says it will have no problem meeting the conditions.

And while it wouldn't confirm the sale price it has pledged to spend substantially more than $200 million buying the farms and livestock and upgrading them.

Mr Crafar says he's unhappy with the Government's decision and that he is in a position to offer the same money.

He says he's seeking legal advice: "We're the ones that built this thing from one house cow through to having 20,000 cows and it's pretty hard to stand by and watch it being destroyed and sold to someone else while we're getting nothing out of it."

A rival New Zealand bidder, the Crafar Farms Purchase Group, is seeking a judicial review which could overturn the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) recommendation.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand spokesperson for Shanghai Pengxin, Cedric Allan, says the company wants to buy another New Zealand property.

Mr Allan says Shanghai Pengxin's chairman, Jiang Zhaobai, lodged a second application with OIO several months ago.

He says the latest application is for a real estate development with nothing to do with farming, the Crafar farms or dairy processing. While he would not disclose the property's location, Mr Allan says the application shows Shanghai Pengxin has a deep interest in New Zealand.

Gutless sale

Labour has described the sale of the land as gutless and unpatriotic, with its leader David Shearer saying the farms should have been sold to New Zealanders.

The party's primary industries spokesperson, Damien O'Connor, says there was ministerial discretion that has not been used and such sales need to stop.

But Prime Minister John Key says Mr Shearer should say whether he would have broken the law to block the deal and tell the public if Labour has a new policy on not selling farms to foreigners.

He says he doubts his political rival will be telling Chinese people at cultural events he attends, that they're not welcome in this country.

The Maori Party says iwi should have had first right of refusal on the land being sold, and New Zealand First says the decision is economic treason.

The Green Party says its policy of selling no more than five hectares of land to foreign investors would have prevented the deal.

Stringent conditions on sale

The approval for the sale follows a recommendation from the Overseas Investment Office to Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson and Associate Finance Minister Jonathan Coleman.

The ministers say stringent conditions have been placed on the sale of the farms.

The conditions include investing more than $14 million into the farms, making them more economically and environmentally sustainable, protecting two pa sites and improving walking access to the Pureora Forest Park and Te Rere falls.

In addition, Shanghai Pengxin must not buy or control milk processing facilities in New Zealand unless half of it is held or controlled by New Zealand interests.

An on-farm training facility for dairy farm workers will also be established.

Mr Williamson says the company must also assist Landcorp to develop business and markets into the Chinese market, which he describes as "very big".

The conditions will be policed by the OIO and the farms will be managed by state-owned company Landcorp.

The new owners will be shareholders in Fonterra and will be bound by its supply agreements.

The ministers stress their decision was not influenced by New Zealand's Free Trade Agreement with China.

They say the relevant sections of the Overseas Investment Act were met, so the recommendation was accepted.

Shanghai Pengxin spokesperson Cedric Allan says the purchase price remains confidential.

He says the company will spend money on the run-down farms to improve production and address environmental issues.