Govt. defends Chen

By Lanuola Tusani Tupufia ,

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INVESTMENT TALKS: Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, La'auli Leuatea Polataivao and Tupa'i Jack Chen.

INVESTMENT TALKS: Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, La'auli Leuatea Polataivao and Tupa'i Jack Chen.

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has acknowledged the assistance of a Chinese businessman who was jailed in China earlier this week for fraud. 

Asked about the fate of businessman, Tupa’i Jack Chen, Tuilaepa said he is someone who has helped Samoa – and when his jail sentence is served, he might come back.

 “He did a lot of work and had helped our Union,” the Prime Minister responded.

Tuilaepa was referring to a donation of NZ$250,000 to the Samoa Rugby Union by Tupa’i Chen during the Rugby World Cup in 2011.  

“Even though his nonu programmes have been affected and have not been accomplished but there are a lot of people that have planted nonu and are reaping the rewards with other companies making use of it,” the Prime Minister said.

Tuilaepa maintained that he is not aware of the details about Tupai’s case. He also said that it does not take a long to serve jail terms these days.

“We never know, he might come back and continue his good work that he did,” said Tuilaepa.

One of the villages involved in one of the programmes from Tupa’i is Sasina. Led by former Speaker and now the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, the village planted thousands of nonu to target the market in China. 

Contacted for a comment, La’auli in an email to the Sunday Samoan said what led to Tupa’i Chen’s sentence happened long before he was introduced to the Chinese businessman.  “He was only introduced to me in July 2011 with a group of New Zealand and Chinese business people and investors who visited Samoa at the time,” La’auli said.

“And it was natural we looked and explored potential investment opportunities for Samoa.”

As the M.P. for Gagaifomauga No. 3, he said it is his duty to explore such opportunities.

Asked about the progress of plans by another investor, Jessie James, to build a multi-million-tala resort at Sasina, La’auli said:  “We also need to be practical with the world economic trends that affect such investments such as the hotel project (in Sasina). 

“Should it not eventuate, the land remains with the village and negotiations are still going forward for the project to start in the near future.”

In 2012, a deal from Tupa’i Chen to ship tens of thousands of litres of Cook Island nonu juice to China for sale went sour leaving growers on the island searching for alternate buyers. 

 In 2012, Pure Pacifika, a New Zealand-based company with subsidiaries in the Cook Islands, Niue and Samoa announced it would purchase the nonu from the islands to sell to China where it would be blended with fruit juice and sold as beverage. 

Earlier this week the South China Morning Post reported that Tupai has been jailed for seven years and nine months for conspiring in an “evil” bid to defraud his company and the stock exchange.   Also known as Chen Keen, Tupai concealed his connection with co-defendant May Wang, when he tried to talk the predecessor of his Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings into buying 22 farms in New Zealand in 2009.

The mainlander – said to be a leading figure in the Chinese community in New Zealand after he moved there – was found guilty earlier by a High Court jury of two counts of conspiracy to defraud and one of laundering more than HK$85 million.

Wang, also known as May Hao, was jailed for eight years and three months, while a third defendant, Eric Yee, who managed the company’s accounts, was sentenced to five years. They were found guilty of the same conspiracy charge.

Sentencing Chen and Wang on Monday, Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam slammed the pair for taking advantage of the company’s listed status and the city’s regulated stock market to raise funds for their criminal plot. “Such a criminal act is one to be deterred,” she said, adding that what the pair did had destroyed the public’s confidence in the local stock market.

The court previously heard that Chen concealed his business ties with Wang from the city’s stock exchange and shareholders of Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings, formerly China Jin Hui Mining Corporation, when he attempted to acquire the farms from New Zealand company Crafarms Group between May 7, 2009 and July 19, 2010.

The farms were purchased by Wang, a mainlander who migrated to New Zealand, for NZ$259 million (HK$1.4 billion) before being resold to China Jin Hui Mining Corporation at Chen’s suggestion for NZ$500 million. The pair also failed to inform the stock market watchdog and shareholders about the actual value of Crafarms, which was described as a “rubbish company” by one of the witnesses.

Despite the stock exchange’s attempt to seek clarification from the pair over their relationship, the judge noted, they maintained that they were not connected.

Pang called their failure to inform shareholders of the farms’ actual value “a particularly evil act”, adding that it deprived shareholders the chance to make an informed decision.

The judge said she refused to accept the pair’s mitigation that no actual loss had been incurred, as they put shareholders’ interest at risk. But she reduced Chen’s sentence by six months from the original eight years and three months, after learning that Chen had been a leading figure in the Chinese community since he moved to New Zealand. The court also took into account the contributions and donations Chen had made over the years to the mainland, New Zealand and Samoa.

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