Freesoul Real Estate Development Limited, a Fijian registered company with Chinese investor interest was fined $1million (US$463,682) by the High Court in Suva for breaching environmental laws while developing a resort in Malolo, Nadi.
The company was sentenced after being convicted earlier for two counts of undertaking unauthorised developments at Malolo Island in 2018. This included digging a trench through the reef.
The development was put under the microscope when Freesoul started encroaching on neighbouring properties and using heavy handed tactics to push off journalists covering the story.
The charges against Freesoul relate to the failure to comply with a prohibition notice issued by Fiji Department of Environment in June 2018, and conducting out of resort development activity in Malolo without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment Report.
Judge Justice Daniel Goundar ordered Freesoul to post a refundable environmental bond of $1.4 million (US$649,000) with the Department of Environment and to rehabilitate the affected areas.
The bond is to be refunded after rehabilitation works are completed to the satisfaction of the Department of Environment.
Close to 8,000 mangroves were removed during the digging of a channel in Malolo Island by Freesoul.
Investment or scam
The Malolo project was sold to mostly Chinese investors as a 370-bure (units) resort and casino, making it the largest resort of its type in Fiji.
Serious damage was done to the reef and the mangroves, with developers cutting through the reef to make a channel for boats. They dumped waste on the seabed floor and destroyed habitat for crabs, birds and marine life.
It is believed that the investors had already paid the company more than AU$35 million. They too want their money back and are looking at legal avenues to obtain it.
There are reports that some of the money invested in China had not even left the country.
The Department of Environment’s dealing with the company was not a jovial affair either. Stones were thrown at them when they went to execute their duties and at times dogs set loose on them.
New Zealand journalists looking into this story were also detained overnight by the Fijian Police in April 2019.
Intervention from Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had them released. Mr Bainimarama mentioned the incident in parliament and labelled police officers who detained the journalist as rogues. He then made a personal apology to the three journalists.