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Suspected arson linked to Maori land dispute

Saturday 26 Jan 2013 5:08 p.m.

By Alison Harley

A Maori land dispute is being blamed as the motivation behind a suspected arson in the Northland beach settlement of Matauri Bay overnight.

The fire razed the local sales office of a new land development, and former local MP Dover Samuels is furious.

It’s another blow for a besieged iwi. The office that could save the Ngati Kura iwi from financial ruin now has been destroyed by a fire that Mr Samuels says was deliberately lit.

“They're despicable,” he says. “You've got to think this was done by the people who don't care about our future.”

The spectacular waterfront around Matauri Bay may look idyllic, but it’s been the centre of an anguished fight.

Twelve years ago, the iwi's Matauri X incorporation invested $2.5 million in a water bottling venture. But it failed, and crippling interest rates saw the debt to a finance company sky rocket to $25 million.

After court action, the debt was capped at $15 million as long as it was repaid in full by May 2015.

But to do this, they've got to sell 5 percent of their land for housing.

The subdivision's been done, the website and sales brochures are ready. But now when potential buyers visit the area there'll be no office to get more information.

The land sale plan has been controversial, and it's divided the iwi. But Mr Samuels says it's got to work.

Police say they're investigating the blaze.

In the meantime the land sale's still on. The iwi has 15 months to pay off the $15 million debt.

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