UPDATE: Auckland company manager charged over 1080 threat
(Adds court appearance)
Oct. 13 (BusinessDesk) - A 60-year old Auckland businessman has been remanded in custody for two weeks after appearing in the Counties Manukau District Court on blackmail charges in connection with a threat to poison infant formula with 1080.
Judge David McNaughton granted the Auckland company manager name suppression until April 16, 2016, along with the names of the companies he’s associated with.
He consented to bail and no plea was entered. He will reappear in court on Oct. 28.
The man was charged this morning after police executed search warrants in Auckland and Rangitikei and he faces two counts of blackmail relating to threat letters sent to Fonterra Cooperative Group and Federated Farmers in November last year.
The letters threatened to poison retail supplies of infant formula destined for the Chinese market and one other market with the poison 1080 unless the government stopped using it for forest pest control, which it refused to do.
The charges say the East Auckland man made the threats for financial gain.
Lawyer Hugh Leabourn said his client consented to remand because of the ongoing police investigation, but invited them to wrap that up as quickly as possible in the next two weeks before the case comes back to court.
The police announced the arrest earlier today after executing five search warrants in Auckland and the Rangitikei district this morning. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said today’s arrest follows a long and complex 11-month investigation, that has cost over $3 million and involved a 35-strong investigation team.
“This investigation is one of the biggest undertaken by police in recent times and reflects how seriously we view this kind of crime,” he said.
The Operation Conchord team had used a range of forensic techniques in gathering evidence, some that were innovative and could be used in future investigations, he said.
It’s believed the arrested man was acting alone and no further arrests are expected although Bush said he couldn’t comment on his motivations for the threatened blackmail.
More than 2,600 people were considered by the investigation team over the course of the inquiry.
Ministry for Primary Industries chief executive Martyn Dunne said the safety of consumers was paramount during the investigation.
“Mums and dads should be confident that infant formula is a safe today as it has always been,” he said.
Dunne said 150,000 batches of a range of infant formula products had been tested under a new regime introduced after the threat. The new tests will remain in place as part of manufacturers’ safety regime.
There had been no drop off in trade because New Zealand had reassured international trading partners that New Zealand products and systems were safe, he said.