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Hong Kong, NZ Chinese group chase Crafar's farms, other assets, for $1.5 billion

Thursday 25th March 2010

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Hong Kong-based investors Natural Dairy NZ may spend $1.5 billion buying New Zealand dairy assets including dairy operations held by the receivers of the Crafar’s farms.

The group has already settled on four farms and is in talks to buy 24 more, said Kerry Knight, of law firm Knight Coldicutt, which represents Hong Kong-listed Natural Dairy NZ, 20% owner of UBNZ Assets Holdings. May Wang, based in New Zealand, where she’s lived through turbulent times in the property sector, owns the rest of UBNZ, according to the Companies Office.

Natural Dairy NZ has applied to the Overseas Investment Office to buy dairy assets in New Zealand, Knight confirmed. The eligibility of the investors in the group to bid through a local company was questioned in some quarters.

“We have been trying to get this deal together,” Knight said. “They can settle. They have got a substantial amount of cash in our trust account – since Christmas Eve.”

Natural Dairy NZ announced its plans to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange today. It is seeking dairy assets including farms, livestock and milk powder production plants worth $1.5 billion, which amounts to “a very substantial acquisition” for the company. It gave no details of the assets sought. It will fund the investments in cash and convertible bonds.

Its executive chairman is Yip Kean Mun, who lists DBS Bank, CEF Holdings, Standard Chartered Merchant Bank Asia and Hong Leong Group Capital Bhd among previous employers.

The same investors had been negotiating with the Crafar family before they were put into receivership. They’re talking to the receivers.

Wang’s ability to lead an investment group was questioned by OIO manager Annelies McClure in a March 1 report in New Zealand Farmers Weekly, where she said Wang's business history “is not consistent with an ability to fund purchases of this size.”

Knight said his clients are above reproach and this week commissioned Environment Waikato to audit the properties.

He acknowledged Wang has been “quite active” in the property market.

Natural Dairy NZ, a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, recently changed its name from China Jin Hui Mining Corp.

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