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Cookie-maker may have to lay off 1,000 employees after poison threats

February 16, 1997

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ A U.S.-owned cookie-maker may have to lay off up to a quarter of its 4,000 full-time workers because of extortion threats to poison its products, it said Sunday.

Arnotts, which is 70-percent owned by New Jersey-based Campbell Soup Co., began a multimillion-dollar recall of all its products in two states Friday. Arnotts has nearly 65 percent of the Australian cookie market.

The recall came after an extortionist threatened to place poisoned cookies on supermarket shelves beginning Monday.

Managing director Chris Roberts said Sunday that the company faced profit losses of up $4 million a week while the crisis continues, and that it would be forced to cut staff accordingly, up to 1,000 workers.

Roberts said the company already has laid off about 100 part-time workers.

``We haven’t reduced permanent staff, but that is an issue we’ll be facing this week,″ he said in Melbourne.

The extortionist is demanding that police officers in the state of New South Wales take lie detector tests about investigations into the 1991 murder of bookmaker Peter George Wade and his wife Maureen Ambrose.

In 1993, the Brisbane Supreme Court found Ronald Henry Thomas guilty of the murders and sentenced him to life in prison. The extortionist _ whose identity remains unknown _ claims that police lied during the trial.

Police said the killings were the work of Thomas and John Victor Bobak, whom they are still seeking. Police believe Bobak may be able to shed light on the extortion threat, but newspapers reported Sunday that according to a former Bobak cellmate, Bobak died several years ago.

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