Possible arson linked to dispute

By Sophie Ryan

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A fire which destroyed the sales office for a Matauri X trust subdivision at Matauri Bay has been linked to a long-running dispute between local hapu and the developers.

The suspected arson occurred at about 3:30am on Saturday.

Kaeo chief fire officer Lindsay Murray said the steel frame of the office was all that was left by the time firefighters arrived. The fire appeared to have started at the rear of the building, he said.

Police are investigating.

Local resident and former Minister for Maori Affairs Dover Samuels, who is the lead shareholder for the trust, linked it to the dispute which followed the trust's investment - without shareholders' approval - of $2.5 million in a water bottling venture which failed in 2001.

Interest on the borrowed money pushed the trust's debt up to more than $20 million, but some members of the Ngati Kura hapu opposed moves to sell sections to extract the trust from its financial problems..

A small group of kaumatua and kuia opposed to the sales last year had signs erected on the beach warning wheels of cars infringing hapu parking rules would be clamped and there would be a $200 fee to have them removed.

Steve Samuels, who was collecting fees at the time, declined to comment about the fire when the Advocate called him yesterday. Hemi-Rua Rapata, formerly a lawyer who was Matauri X chairman when the $2.5 million was borrowed, could not be contacted for comment. y

Meanwhile, bamboo touching a power line at Pukenui caused a fire yesterday.

About 70m of bamboo just north of the Pukenui township near Lamb's Bridge ignited about 1.20pm after touching the line above it and causing a short-circuit which brought the line down.

Kaitaia chief fire officer Colin Kitchen said that turning the power off so firefighters could put water on the blaze took about half an hour.

One appliance from Kaitaia and two from Pukenui attended the fire, which was fanned by 25-knot easterly winds gusting to 35 knots.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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