Cyanide letter contains threat against New Zealand Open

Saturday, January 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ Days before Tiger Woods' first appearance in New Zealand, police officials confirmed Sunday that the U.S. Embassy received a letter containing cyanide and threats to disrupt the New Zealand Open.

Assistant police commissioner Jon White said the threats were directed at the tournament, rather than Woods individually, but ``it was clear the threats had been made because Woods, the world's No. 1 golfer, was playing.''

He confirmed that a ``small'' amount of cyanide was in the letter mailed in New Zealand and received by the embassy in Wellington in December.

``The threatening letter was sent to the U.S. Embassy and Israelis were also mentioned in it,'' White said. ``We're talking and working with the diplomatic community and giving them much the same sort of advice as we are the public generally.''

Independent confirmation of the cyanide letter was being sought from the U.S. Embassy, but phone calls placed by The Associated Press have not been returned. The State Department in Washington said it had not heard of the threat.

Although White said Woods' management team had been informed of the threats, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg of International Management Group, told The Associated Press he was not aware of the letter.

``I've been on the phone with the security people the last couple of weeks,'' Steinberg said. ``If any of it were true, I think I would have heard about it.''

Woods, in Hawaii for the Mercedes Championships, was not immediately available for comment, having left the course after a 1-over 74. Earlier in the round, he said he planned to leave for New Zealand as soon as the tournament ends. He reportedly was paid $2 million to play in the tournament.

Police also warned spectators attending the tournament, which begins Thursday at Paraparaumu Beach, to be particularly careful with food. Catering staff have been warned about attempts to contaminate food.

Cyanide, which comes in paste or powder form, can only be purchased in New Zealand with a permit. The deadly poison is used to kill animals and extract gold from ore in mining.