Earlier today, New Zealand Police announced it has charged a 60 year old businessman from Auckland with with two counts of blackmail – one for each of the threat letters sent to Fonterra and Federated Farmers.
The accused appeared at Manukau District Court earlier today.
In New Zealand, blackmail is punishable by a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
Fonterra and Federated Farmers received letters in November 2014 containing a threat to contaminate infant formula with 1080 unless New Zealand ended its use of the pest control poison by the end of March 2015.
New Zealand Police announced it was investigating the threat in cooperation with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) on March 10.
“This investigation is one of the biggest undertaken by police in recent times, and reflects how seriously we view this kind of crime,” said New Zealand Police Commissioner, Mike Bush.
The NZ$3m (US$2m) investigation, dubbed Operation Concord, considered over 2,600 people.
More than 60 persons of interest were approached for interview by New Zealand Police.
“Today’s arrest is the result of dedicated investigative work over many months. The Operation Concord team has demonstrated a meticulous approach in managing large volumes of information and applying a range of forensic techniques in gathering evidence," Bush continued.
“While we are unable to discuss any specifics about the investigation, we can say that the general public reaction to the threat meant Police received a high level of cooperation from many people during the course of the enquiry.”
Theo Spierings, CEO, Fonterra - the recipient of one of the threat letters - welcomed today's news.
“Fonterra is pleased to hear that an arrest has been made as part of the investigation into the criminal blackmail threat made public in March this year,” said Theo Spierings, CEO, Fonterra.
“We would like to thank MPI and the New Zealand Police for their continued and exhaustive efforts on behalf of the New Zealand dairy industry, retailers and the general public.”
Samples of milk powder sent with the letters tested positive for 1080, the salt form of a toxin found in several plants.
Pellets of 1080 are applied aerially in New Zealand to kill pests such as possums, a marsupial that’s been blamed for the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
On March 18, New Zealand Police announced it was testing several tins of infant formula following calls about packaging damage.
All the infant formula tested by New Zealand came back negative for 1080, New Zealand Police announced the next day.
In June, heavily-redacted documents detailing the New Zealand Government response to the 1080 blackmail threat were published after a series of Official Information Act (OIA) requests.
The documents - published by the MPI - revealed the New Zealand Government initially considered it "undesirable" for details of the 1080 threat to be made public.