Wealthy German businessman Tobias Janke revealed as Pepin Island buyer

Pepin Island, one of the South Island’s most spectacular private islands, has been bought by a wealthy German businessman, the Herald understands.

In June, the Auckland-based businessman incorporated Pepin Island Ltd to hold interests in mixed farming, the Companies Register shows; the island’s freehold title is expected to transfer to the newly formed company this month.

The businessman is Tobias Janke.

Pepin is a 518 hectare island and working sheep farm between Cable Bay and Delaware Bay, close to Nelson. It is connected to the mainland by a boulder bank causeway and road.

The island’s central hill climbs some 400 metres above sea level and offers extensive views across Tasman Bay, and as far as Mount Taranaki on especially clear days.

The sale went unconditional in May and the price is understood to be close to the $13.5m asking price. The island sat on the market for three years and in March the overseas vendors dropped the asking price from $16m.

Janke, a keen yachtsman and previously based in Hong Kong, appears to be a relative newcomer to New Zealand and is little-known in local business circles.

The Herald contacted Janke through Davenports Law of Auckland, a firm he used to establish a number of trusts and companies in recent months.

Associate Rachel Lee confirmed that Janke received the request for an interview, but he did not respond to the Herald and Lee declined to answer questions about her client.

The Overseas Investment Office confirmed that it has not received an application for the Pepin sale, which would be required if the buyer was not a New Zealand resident or citizen.

Janke moved to Hong Kong in the early 1990s from Germany and, with friend Thomas Freidel, founded successful lighting manufacturing business Cosmocon International, which makes products for the European market.

The company is private and the Hong Kong companies registry does not show shareholdings, but lists Janke as the firm’s corporate secretary.

The 2016 Panama Papers – a huge leak of files from Panamanian law firm and provider of offshore financial services Mossack Fonseca – listed Janke and business partner Freidel as shareholders of Windbreaker Investments Ltd, incorporated in 2005 in the British Virgin Islands, a low-tax jurisdiction, and linked to Hong Kong.

Janke and his wife Nicola Mueller are known to the New Zealand public for a humanitarian effort the couple led following their encounter with a gravely ill girl, Michelin Warri, on Vanuatu’s Pentecost Island in 2018.

Janke and Mueller helped to shepherd the girl, who suffers from an auto-immune disease, through drawn-out medical treatment and recovery.

The couple raised some $95,000 through a GiveaLittle page to help fund the child’s care. They said hospital costs in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila alone topped $200,000.

A 2019 story about the effort, published in the Herald, described the couple and their two young daughters as German nationals with recently obtained New Zealand residency.Mueller said friends and members of the Janke family had covered the balance of expenses for Michelin’s care.

At the time, the family had recently spent several years sailing around the world on their 16m catamaran, Invictus.

Property records show that New Zealand residency was quickly followed by the purchase of a home.

In late 2019, Janke and Mueller paid $9.25m for a lavish house on Red Bluff Rise in Campbells Bay on Auckland’s North Shore. The property includes a swimming pool, beach access by cable car from the home’s clifftop site, and sweeping views of the Hauraki Gulf and islands. It was recently valued at $12m.

Pepin Island farm manager Andrew Newton declined to discuss the new owners, but noted: “I don’t expect significant change from the current running of the island”.

Newton has lived on the island for decades with his wife Nicki, and raised a large family there. The couple continue to occupy the property’s main seven-bedroom farmhouse and Newton confirmed that he will stay on under the new owners “in some capacity”.

His daughter, Danielle Newton-Carbery, will continue to run the tourist accommodation business, managing bookings for three small cabins scattered around the property.

Newton said he hasn’t discussed public access with the new owner. In recent years the island’s circuit track has been open to the public bi-annually as a local fundraiser.

The island’s coastline is popular with kayakers and boaters, and it has a beach which is accessible to the public, up to the high tide mark.

Newton is the sole director of Janke’s newly incorporated Pepin Island Ltd. The company is owned by Invictus Investment Trustees Ltd, in turn held by Janke and a second trust.

Last year Janke also bought a modest home on a large section in Gisborne for just under $500,000.

And in recent months Janke and Auckland-based property developer Todd Scrafton have formed five companies.

Scrafton is managing director of construction firm Iconiq Group, whose customers include Crown agency and public housing developer Kainga Ora. The company’s website describes Iconiq as both Auckland and Gisborne-based. It builds relocatable housing at a Gisborne facility. Scrafton declined to answer the Herald’s questions about his business plans with Janke.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese had hoped the local Nelson City Council, with the Department of Conservation (DOC), would buy Pepin after it was listed for sale by its owner Olivia Cayetana Hallman, also a German national, in 2018.

However, “it wasn’t financially viable for council to purchase, maintain and develop Pepin Island given the extensive landholdings we already have in conservation and landscape reserves,” Reese said.

A DOC spokesperson said that in early 2019 the department had discussed Pepin’s ownership with Reese.

“We recognised Pepin Island had some biodiversity values but they didn’t warrant DOC funding or partly funding purchase of the property,” the spokesperson said.

The sale marks the return of Pepin to New Zealand ownership, albeit newly minted, after 26 years.

Hallman’s mother, German businesswoman Viola von Hohenzollern, bought the island in 1995 for $2m.

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