The chief executive of the world's biggest cigarette company has bought a 316ha farm in the Bay of Islands.

Andre Calantzopoulos and his wife Malgorzata were given approval to buy the property on Pungaere Rd, between Waipapa and Puketi Forest, on May 2. The decision was made public on the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) website last week.

Mr Calantzopoulos, who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, is the chief executive of Philip Morris International.

As non-New Zealand citizens the couple needed OIO approval for the purchase because the property is deemed sensitive due to its size and because it is mostly farmland.

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Mr and Mrs Calantzopoulos plan to use the land to breed beef cattle and sheep in accordance with permaculture principles.

The OIO stated the transaction satisfied the criteria for overseas investment because it provided "substantial and identifiable benefit to New Zealand".

The couple was "committed to protecting and enhancing significant indigenous vegetation and fauna, both on the land and its surrounds, with the legal protection of a QEII covenant for two significant areas of indigenous forest, additional fencing for other areas of significant indigenous vegetation, native plantings along Kerikeri River, and pest control across all of the land and surrounding forest fragments in order to create a predator-free corridor from the land to the nearby Puketi Forest."

The couple also planned to provide or improve walking access over the land with a poled walkway route and an esplanade strip beside Kerikeri River.

Currently a formal walking trail follows the river from the Stone Store as far as State Highway 10.

The land was purchased from Pukenui Holdings, a company owned by Haydn and Joanne Bonham of Waipapa. OIO reports usually list the sale price but in this case it was withheld to avoid "prejudicing the commercial position" of one of the parties.

Mr Calantzopoulos was born in Greece but aged 18 moved to Switzerland, where he studied electrical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Later he gained an MBA in Paris and started working at Philip Morris International (PMI) as a business development analyst in 1985. He was appointed chief operating officer in 2008 and chief executive in 2013.

PMI is an American company based in Switzerland which sells cigarettes in 180 countries, but not in the US. It owns six of the world's biggest tobacco brands, including Marlboro.

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In 2008 PMI was spun off the parent company, Altria Group, to give it more freedom from potential litigation and legal restrictions to pursue sales in emerging markets.

It has about 80,000 employees and its products are smoked by 150 million people worldwide.

However, the company remains controversial because of the health effects of tobacco.

According to a World Health Organisation report from 2008 tobacco is the world's single greatest cause of preventable death.

Other recent high-profile land sales to overseas investors include the purchase late last year of 37ha at Long Beach in Russell by Austria's former world number one tennis player Thomas Muster, nicknamed "The King of Clay".