Laying of bribery and money laundering charges against two former Crafar farms bidders has left the future of multi-million-dollar projects in New Zealand and in the Pacific up in the air.
And it has emerged that a company linked to former All Black Michael Jones may also suffer, as it has a large sum of money tied up in a deal with those charged.
It was revealed yesterday that the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption has laid several charges against bankrupt businesswoman May Wang over business dealings said to have happened in New Zealand while she was trying to buy the dairy farms formerly owned by the Crafar family.
Natural Dairy founder Jack Chen has also been charged. He did not turn up to face the charges on Monday and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Wang has appeared in a Hong Kong court and was remanded on bail until her next court appearance on January 18.
The charges follow a year-long investigation by the commission and New Zealand's Serious Fraud Office.
The head of the SFO Adam Feeley told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme today "It made more sense to us to cooperate with the Hong Kong authorities than to lay any charges here."
He said the SFO will still have a lot of involvement in the case.
"We will probably still have some investigative work to do, and on the assumption there is a trial in Hong Kong it will be our evidence and our staff going up there for the trial."
Wang is alleged to have conspired with Chen, when he was an executive director of Natural Dairy, and other persons to offer him two properties in Auckland, as well as more than HK$73 million ($11.9 million), if he agreed to acquire her company, UBNZ Assets.
The additional charges relate to the alleged laundering of $150 million in crime proceeds.
The charges were revealed by New Zealand biotech company Genesis Research, which is partly owned by another company formerly linked to Wang.
Genesis spokesman Stephen Hall said he was severing his links with UBNZ, and indicated that prospects for the future of Genesis were grim.
The future of a Tauranga dairy plant which supplies milk to Natural Dairy is also unclear.
The factory employs dozens of people, and although Wang no longer has an official connection with the factory, she has still been involved in the business behind the scenes.
Wang, who also uses the name May Hao, is also understood to have been working with Chen on other business interests, including discussions with Pacific Island leaders about investments in the Pacific, including several hotels and even local banks.
Natural Dairy has a contract to buy hundreds of thousands of litres of noni juice from a company linked to Michael Jones.
Natural Dairy company told Jones it was keen to buy millions of litres of the juice for New Zealand-themed retail stores it had developed in China.
Jones' company is understood to have spent a large sum developing a factory in Samoa to process the fruit.
Jones said yesterday it was unclear whether the deal would go ahead.
"Obviously it's a setback - it has taken the wind out of our sails a bit. They were going to be our main customer, but they're not our only customer, and we're still really keen to develop that market in China."
A prominent Pacific businessman, who did not want to be named, said the news was devastating for the region.
"I find it very sad, because Samoa so badly needs inward investment."
Natural Dairy's New Zealand chief executive, Graham Chin, said yesterday he had not been in touch with Chen for at least a week, and did not know where he was.
Chen, who has at least two homes in Auckland, including Hanover co-founder Mark Hotchin's former home in Parnell, has previously admitted being banned in 2004 from being a director by Chinese authorities because of "serious breaches" of securities regulations.
He helped found a Chinese newspaper in Auckland, and until recently was involved in a new political party, the New Citizens Party, that fielded a candidate in the Botany byelection.
The party said yesterday it would withdraw from this year's election.
- with APNZBy Karyn Scherer Email Karyn