Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward has asked the state’s attorney general to investigate two companies that Ward say are possibly linked to the Chinese government.
In a pair of letters sent Monday to Attorney General Tim Griffin, Ward cited a newly passed law that bars certain kinds of foreign controlled businesses from owning agricultural land in Arkansas. Ward said in a letter that Risever Machinery LLC, which operates a facility in Craighead County, and Jones Digital LLC, which has a planned crypto mining operation in DeWitt, may have ties to the Chinese government, which if true would violate state law.
Under Act 636, which Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law in April, the Department of Agriculture has the power to investigate companies that are owned by “prohibited foreign-party-controlled business.” Under the law businesses where a prohibited foreign country has at least a 50% stake are not allowed to own agricultural land in Arkansas and the Department of Agriculture may report the company to the attorney general’s office, which can order the company to divest.
Countries prohibited from owning agricultural land in Arkansas are ones listed on the federal International Traffic in Arms Regulations, such as China, North Korea and Syria.
“In accordance with Act 636, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture is directed to collect and analyze information concerning the unlawful sale or possession of agricultural land by prohibited foreign parties and report violations to the Arkansas Attorney General,” Ward wrote in the letter to Griffin.
“I am in receipt of the Secretary’s letter fulfilling his statutory obligation to refer potential illegal foreign land ownership to me,” Griffin, a Republican, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We are investigating a number of crypto mining operations to ensure their compliance with Arkansas law.”
Ward said Risever Machinery, a company that manufactures machine parts at its facility in Craighead County, “has significant ties to China.”
Heifei Risever Machine Co., is a family-owned business based out of Heifei, China. In 2017, the company announced it would open a facility near Jonesboro to manufacture parts for Caterpillar, Volvo and Komatsu along with other companies that make heavy equipment. A representative for Risever declined to comment Tuesday when reached by the Democrat-Gazette.
At the time, the company received a $1 million grant from the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund and a $100,000 grant from the Arkansas Development Commission for a job training program. Asa Hutchinson, who was governor at the time, was on hand in 2017 for an event in Jonesboro where the company announced its plans to build a $20 million facility that would create 130 jobs.
The other company at the center of Ward’s concerns is Jones Digital LLC, which has plans to operate a crypto mining facility in DeWitt. According to records from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, the company listed its officers as Yizheng Wang and Robin Jones.
The company has a registered address in Mountain Home and one in Dover, Del. A call from the Democrat-Gazette to a registered agent for the company requesting comment was not returned Tuesday.
According to Ward’s letter “A review of Jones Digital’s ownership indicates that the entity may have significant ties to China.”
“Further, it is believed that the individuals or entities involved in the ownership of Jones Digital LLC may also have significant ownership interest in other digital asset or crypto-mining operations in other parts of the state under different names,” Ward wrote.
In November, the company sued Arkansas County in federal court after the Quorum Court passed a noise ordinance to keep the crypto mining facility from operating. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rudofsky issued a preliminary injunction preventing the county from enforcing its noise ordinance.
According to its corporate disclosure filed with the court, Jones Digital’s members are Alpha Digital One, LLC, Eagle Asset Holding, Inc., Beskor Balance, Inc. and NewRays Inc., all of which are incorporated in the state of Delaware.
In November, Griffin used Act 636 to order Syngenta Seeds, LLC to divest its ownership stake in Arkansas land. The company manufactures genetically modified corn, wheat, soybeans, vegetable and sunflower seeds. Syngenta owns 160 acres of farmland in Craighead County through a subsidiary, Northrup King Seed Co., according to the attorney general’s office.
China National Chemical Corporation, also known as ChemChina, acquired 80.7% of Syngenta’s shares in 2017. Griffin said Syngenta has about two years to divest its ownership stake.
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