Mars extortion bid aimed at casino - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

An extortionist whose letters forced a food manufacturer to destroy millions of chocolate bars was ultimately targeting Sydneys Star City Casino, police revealed.

MasterFoods received five letters threatening a third party and claiming Mars and Snickers bars had been contaminated.

The company recalled and destroyed more than three million bars and is yet to announce when shelves in NSW stores will be restocked.

NSW police Detective Superintendent Peter Cotter, of the Robbery and Serious Crime Squad Command, confirmed Star City also received several typed and handwritten letters, and was the prime target of the threat.

MasterFoods had been used as a "vehicle", but police investigations had failed to find any links between the two companies, Det Supt Cotter said.

He said the details of the threat remain unclear but the public and casino staff and patrons were not at risk.

"We are now at a stage where we are keen to clarify the direct communication between Star City and the author (of the letters)," he said.

"While Star City have attempted to comply with directions, some of the demands remain unclear and need to be clarified."

Det Supt Cotter said it was also unclear why the casino had been targeted.

"We dont know what the motives are ... but to this end MasterFoods have suffered significantly when it appears the real grudge, the real beef, is with Star City Casino," he said.

The extortionist was urged to contact police to organise a "negotiated settlement".

"Obviously, it would be very helpful for us to engage in direct dialogue by whatever means," Det Supt Cotter said.

"We need him to clarify exactly what his demands are and what hes seeking."

Star City chief operating officer Jim LEstrange said the company had immediately passed on the correspondence to police.

"Weve been working with police very, very closely," Mr LEstrange said.

"Star City has been ready to come forward for some time, however, it is clearly a sensitive issue."

He refused to comment on suggestions Star City casino could compensate MasterFoods for the financial loss of the recall.

MasterFoods regional president Andy Weston-Webb said he was "perplexed" as to why the company had been drawn into the extortion bid.

But Mr Weston-Webb would also not be drawn on the issue of compensation, saying the company was focusing on public safety.

The company boosted production at its Victorian factory this week but has yet to decide when shelves in NSW retail outlets would be restocked.

"We will consult with the food authorities and any decision we make about the future will be first and foremost based on a matter of public safety," he said.

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