China dairy investor's links revealed

By Karyn Scherer

Jenny Shipley. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Jenny Shipley. Photo / Kenny Rodger

A Chinese businessman alleged to be behind ambitious plans to invest up to $1.5 billion in New Zealand's dairy industry has only recently severed his business links with former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

According to Companies Office records, Jack Chen, Jenny Shipley and another investor founded a business together in 2004 called New Zealand Pure & Natural.

Mr Chen quit as a director a year later but only quit his shareholding last month.

A Herald investigation has also revealed that a Chinese bank of which Mrs Shipley is a director is one of the banks which has agreed to help finance the plans - if they go ahead.

A division of China Construction Bank has agreed to subscribe to HK$64.4 million ($11.4 million) worth of convertible bonds, and has an option to subscribe to more if it wishes.

The bonds can be converted into shares in Natural Dairy, the Hong Kong company behind the proposal.

Mrs Shipley was appointed a director of the bank in 2008.

The link could prove politically awkward for the National Party, as the saga over the sale of more than a dozen Crafar family farms in the central and lower North Island drags on.

Their potential sale to Chinese interests has sparked a public debate about foreign ownership and National this week deferred announcing a review of foreign ownership laws, saying the issues had recently become more complex.

Mr Chen is believed to have moved to New Zealand in 2002 - the same year he stood down as head of a public company in China after were found irregularities in its financial records.

He has admitted being fined by Chinese authorities and banned from being a director for three years.

Last year, he was involved in a takeover of a Chinese mining company listed in Hong Kong.

The company was renamed Natural Dairy and it announced plans for a "significant acquisition" in New Zealand.

Mr Chen quit as chief executive and co-chairman of the company after just a few months but complaints have been made to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that he is continuing to control the company behind the scenes. The company has denied the claims.

Mr Chen was unable to be reached for comment.

He admitted to the Herald in April that he had been "the driving force" behind the Natural Dairy proposal.

Natural Dairy has agreed to buy the Crafar farms from Auckland businesswoman May Wang, who has admitted acting on behalf of four mystery investors. Some local Chinese believe Mr Chen is one of them. .

The Herald investigation has revealed several links between Mr Chen and Ms Wang, who is trying to stave off bankruptcy after an unsuccessful foray into property development.

It has also revealed links between Natural Dairy and members of an Auckland group known as the Chinese Business Roundtable Council.

Labour MP Raymond Huo, who is listed as on the Roundtable's executive, said he knew all of those behind the Natural Dairy proposal and initially said that he would be happy to discuss it. But he later did not return the Herald's calls.

Mr Chen has talked about his political ambitions, and has been reported to be setting up a new political party.

- NZ Herald

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