Casino the target of extortionist - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

SYDNEYS Star City Casino is the mystery target of the Mars and Snickers bar extortion bid, but police are still no closer to deciphering the extortionists motives or even the full extent of his demands.

NSW Police said yesterday the casino, in inner-city Pyrmont, had received several letters from the extortionist and had attempted to comply with some of the requests contained in the letters.

Detective Superintendent Peter Cotter of the NSW Robbery and Serious Crime Squad called for the extortionist to begin communicating with the casino or police directly.

"We need him to clarify exactly what his demands are and what hes seeking," Superintendent Cotter said.

He said Masterfoods, which had been forced to recall and destroy 3million Mars and Snickers bars after threats that seven bars on NSW supermarket shelves had been poisoned, was an innocent party. Masterfoods is owned by US food giant Mars Inc.

He said if the extortionist was not willing to call police directly, he should at least contact the casino and leave Masterfoods out of negotiations to reach a settlement.

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

Superintendent Cotter described the extortionists letters as "rambling" and said police had been unable to gain a clear idea of his demands.

Star City Casino chief operating officer Jim LEstrange said there was no threat to the casino itself or its staff.

However, he said security staff were using their extensive surveillance equipment to be on alert for anything unusual.

Mr Cotter said police were investigating all avenues relating to disgruntled former staff or gamblers.

Masterfoods has begun manufacturing Mars and Snickers bars for the NSW market at its Victorian factory, but all stocks will be held in a secure storage facility until the company gets the all clear to start restocking shelves.

"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," Masterfoods Australian president Andy Weston-Webb said.

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