A foreign billionaire who plans to build the nation's biggest skyscraper in downtown Auckland has been forced to sell a vineyard after breaching overseas investment rules.
Shanghai business magnate Furu Ding owns a chain of high-end hotels in China and Singapore and has considerable land holdings and commercial interests in New Zealand.
In 2012, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) granted Ding consent to buy a massive 4417sq m vacant Auckland CBD site for $53 million at 106 Albert St to build a $350m five-star Ritz Carlton hotel and 52-storey tower.
That same year he was also granted consent to buy 28ha of Waitākere land for $5m on Forest Hill Rd that was home to the old Sapich Bros vineyard and winery.
Documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show Ding undertook to continue running the wine business, invest in refurbishing the winery and increase production to supply local wine to his hotels in China.
He also promised to become "ordinarily resident in New Zealand" by 2015.
However, the Herald can reveal he was ordered to dispose of the property in May 2019 after failing to meet his obligations and breaching the conditions of his consent.
A letter sent to Ding's New Zealand lawyer from OIO senior investigator Gary Bailey said despite Ding's undertakings, "As we know now the applicant did not do any of the things referred to."
The letter says Ding closed the winery business, "deciding this shortly before settlement in July 2013".
He removed vines from the land early the next year and did not become ordinarily resident in New Zealand, "and remains an overseas person".
As Ding was therefore holding the land in breach of his consent he was ordered to contract a licensed real estate agent and sell the land within six months.
The documents show Ding requested a further six months' grace to market the property, due to its size and location, and the need for prospective purchasers to obtain resource consent to subdivide the land.
However, the request was refused "given the length of time your client has held the land in breach of its conditions".
The OIO also warned that failure to dispose of the land within the mandated deadline "could amount to a further breach of the Overseas Investment Act" and risk additional enforcement action.
Property records show the land was sold last year for an undisclosed amount. The Herald understands the New Zealand purchaser did not require OIO consent.
Asked whether prosecution was considered, an OIO spokesman said this was not a "preferred option" in this case.
"We considered a disposal was the most appropriate and proportionate enforcement action."
Ding did not respond to questions sent to his New Zealand lawyer.
Darren Sapich, 55, grew up on the Waitākere vineyard which was run by his father Ivan and uncle Steve.
Darren said the family originally emigrated from Croatia and purchased the land in the 1930s.
They had specialised in fortified wine. The vineyard's Purple Death was "famous in New Zealand".
"It was something that a lot of West Auckland and the Air Force guys used to live on. It was a pisstake of the old snobbery of the wine industry."
Ivan and his brother were West Auckland identities, prominent in Waitākere and Auckland rugby circles, while Ivan was president of the Avondale jockey club.
Though West Auckland was once home to more than 50 Croatian vineyards, the area's climate was not well suited to grape-growing, Darren said.
Sapich Bros winery eventually became financially unviable and the family decided to sell when Ivan became unwell.
Darren said Ding met with a viticulturist and had planned to plant new grape varieties and "export the wine back to his other entities in China".
"He came down to Auckland and bought a fair bit of real estate. At that point he was definitely keen to carry on with the winery.
"Obviously, things changed."
Darren said Ding later offered the land back to the family to continue to run as a vineyard. They suggested he clear the vines in preparation for planting new grapes.
Steep hikes to Chinese import duties on foreign wines may have made Ding's planned operation uneconomic, Darren said.
The site is now bare with several lots for sale.
The Waitākere property is the second vineyard that has been subject to an OIO forced sale.
The Herald reported last month that Chinese company Xindongyue Group NZ Ltd was forced to offload a boutique Karaka vineyard and lodge at a huge loss after failing to meet strict OIO rules designed to protect sensitive Kiwi land.
Meanwhile, Ding's Auckland CBD site remains vacant nearly five years after the OIO granted consent for the $350m skyscraper to be built.
The Herald asked the OIO if Ding's failure to meet residency conditions relating to the Waitākere vineyard had any bearing on his CBD development consent, granted to Ding's company NDG Asia Pacific (NZ) Ltd.
OIO enforcement manager Simon Pope said that consent was granted under the Significant Business Assets pathway and remained valid.
"There is no requirement for Mr Ding to be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.
"We have not investigated or taken any enforcement action in respect of this consent."
Auckland Council said a resource consent extension issued for the tower development in 2015 was due to lapse in October this year.
The council had not had any communication with the consent holder for several years, nor had it received any request to further extend the consent.