Winston Peters has launched an astonishing attack on "a gang of corporate thugs" who he claimed had shafted Manaia's major employer, Yarrows the Bakers.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday on the eve of a court case across the Tasman relating to the liquidation of the company, he said the forcing out of owner Paul Yarrow last May was "nothing short of a corporate assassination".
Yarrows, established in 1923, by Alfred and Grace Yarrow, is one of Taranaki's iconic companies and was among its most benevolent.
Following its collapse last year, another member of the Yarrow family, John, bought the company.
Peters, speaking under parliamentary privilege, claimed putting the company into receivership last year was an inside job, an elaborate plot orchestrated by overseas and New Zealand investors.
Yesterday, the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it had received a complaint and had been reviewing it.
Today, a hearing starts at the New South Wales Supreme Court relating to the liquidation of Yarrows after a civil application under the Corporations Act was filed last month.
Peters spoke of "unusual" circumstances surrounding the receivership of Yarrows last May.
"This is a story of how an Australian bank, some Ned Kellys across the ditch and some local businesspeople, robbed a small New Zealand town of its livelihood," Mr Peters said.
"Its about how a gang of corporate thugs screwed dozens of people out of their jobs.
"Its about how the Westpac Bank involved itself in shafting an iconic New Zealand company namely Yarrows the Bakers in Manaia, Taranaki - heartland New Zealand."
At the time of receivership Yarrows was worth $100 million and Paul Yarrow had just secured a new international joint venture worth $200m over 10 years, Mr Peters said.
"A group of individuals set out to take control of this joint venture and force Mr Yarrow out. It was nothing short of a corporate assassination," Mr Peters said.
The "conspirators" deliberately overcharged Mr Yarrow $2m in false leases, he said.
"They then demanded a payment of $A7m from Mr Yarrow and the price, if he did not agree to their demands, was receivership."
He named a number of people he alleged were responsible for the
plot. All were connected to Yarrows and included former company
director Michael Finnigan, Brian Mayo-Smith from receivers BDO, and
Westpac Bank senior manager of credit restructuring Nick Hale.
"These people conspired to bring down Yarrows from within."
Mr Peters said evidence will come out in the NSW Supreme Court. Included in the evidence is a tape recording which reveals the depth of the plot, he said.
Paul Yarrow's former adviser Mr Finnigan can be heard saying: "Let's threaten receivership", Mr Peters said.
"Mostly they wanted Paul Yarrow out so they could transfer assets from his family company in Manaia to pay for shares at a discount price in Australia. The case shows what happens when unscrupulous overseas owned banks and corporate high fliers get their hands on New Zealand companies, but this is a rural company.
"When it all happened, the Westpac Bank and these businessmen had no regards to what was being done to local people and the Government does nothing about it."
Last night Paul Yarrow's cellphone answer service said he was out of the country until next week.
His brother and new owner of the bakery John Yarrow would not comment last night.
In May last year BDO, the New Zealand receivers, said the Australian branch of Yarrows was not involved in the liquidation process.