SFO confirms Zespri probe

The SFO won't say what it's looking at in its investigation of Zespri. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
The SFO won't say what it's looking at in its investigation of Zespri. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

The Serious Fraud Office has confirmed it's looking at legislated export marketing monopolist Zespri International, though is being tight-lipped on any further details.

The white-collar crime investigator has opened a preliminary investigation, but won't say what it's looking at or indicating what powers the SFO has to compel Zespri to release information.

"Zespri has not been contacted by the Serious Fraud Office and has no details of the scope or substance of an investigation," it said in an emailed statement. "Zespri will cooperate with any investigation the Serious Fraud Office may undertake."

The investigation comes in a year when a Zespri subsidiary was found guilty of being an accessory to under-declaring customs duties by a Chinese court, which fined the unit $960,000, sentenced its employee to five years imprisonment, and ruled gains of some $11.6 million should be repaid. It lost an appeal of the ruling in July.

In a July interview with TVNZ's Q&A programme, Zespri chief executive Lain Jager said there was corruption and fraud involved in the case, but that it wasn't Zespri.

"There are things we could have done better, but we're not corrupt," Jager told Q&A in July.

During the Q&A interview Jager said he had no knowledge or seen any suggestion that bribery was involved.

An OECD report released last week slated New Zealand's efforts to implement a convention on anti-bribery efforts, saying since the nation became a party to the convention in 2001 it hadn't prosecuted any foreign bribery cases, and only four allegations surfaced.

"In July 2013, the SFO opened its second investigation into possible foreign bribery related to a fraud investigation involving a New Zealand company," the OECD report said. "The allegation relates to the payment of bribes over a number of years by the company to officials in an Asian country in order to secure access to markets."

The white-collar crime investigator launched the probe based on a newspaper report, and at the time of the OECD report's publication was still at the investigation stage.

In July, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers launched an the second part of an inquiry assessing the impact of the Chinese legal action on Zespri's brand to investigate what happened during the under-declaring of customs duties. The findings are expected to be released to growers later this year.

- BusinessDesk

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