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Crafar farm sales months away

Friday 26th March 2010

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The sale of the Crafar family farms to Chinese investor UBNZ is as much as two months away because the would-be purchaser has passed none of the hurdles required by the Overseas Investment Office.

Under the Overseas Investment Act, any sale of more than five hectares of rural land is deemed "sensitive land" and must be advertised and "available for acquisition on the market" for at least 20 working days to New Zealand buyers before a sale to foreign interests can occur.

On top of this, the OIO requires 50 working days to process an application to purchase by an overseas investor, a process UBNZ is only now in the process of following.

The farms in question have yet to be advertised on the open market, said Bill Ralston, a spokesman for Natural Dairies NZ, a 20% shareholder in UBNZ, which is 80%-owned by May Wang, a Chinese businesswoman based in New Zealand with a chequered commercial past.

UBNZ has already bought four other farms from the collapsed Crafar empire, and incurred the ire of the OIO for failing to go through the foreign investment process, having previously argued that Natural Dairies NZ was a New Zealand company which did not have to follow OIO processes when it bought the four farms through Bayleys Real Estate.

Retrospective application for permissions has now been lodged.

The OIO Regulations also confirm that a land owner "may accept an offer for the farm land ... before the end of the period ... from a person who is not an overseas person."

Ralston said, however, that there was nothing to stop the Crafar farm receivers, Korda Mentha, and the UBNZ group from reaching an agreement in principle.

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