N.Z. Police Arrest Man After Infant Formula Poison Threat

  • Auckland businessman faces two criminal blackmail charges
  • Investigation into threat to contaminate products with 1080

New Zealand Police have arrested and charged a 60-year-old businessman with two counts of blackmail following an 11-month investigation into threats to contaminate infant milk formula with a deadly pesticide.

The Auckland man will appear in court later Tuesday, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at a news conference. The accused appeared to be acting alone, he said, while declining to reveal further details because of the hearing.

Police revealed in March that letters sent to Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the world’s biggest dairy exporter, and Federated Farmers of New Zealand in November last year threatened to contaminate baby formula with the pesticide 1080 unless the government stopped using it. The New Zealand government contacted key trading partners and tests were done on more than 50,000 samples without any trace of the poison being found.

“This investigation is one of the biggest undertaken by police in recent times, and reflects how seriously we view this kind of crime,” Bush said. The investigation team considered 2,600 people during its inquiries, with more than 60 persons of interest approached for interview.

The scare highlighted the importance of New Zealand’s food safety regime and its dependence on dairy exports, which make up a quarter of total overseas sales. The threat came after a botulism scare in 2013 prompted a global recall of some Fonterra products and an import ban by China until it was proved to be a false alarm.

The blackmail charge related to the two threat letters sent in November. The crime is punishable by as much as 14 years in prison, Bush said.

Fonterra Chief Executive Officer Theo Spierings issued a statement welcoming the arrest and thanking police for their efforts.

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