Wednesday, July 07, 2010

State Theft of Private Property on the Rise in Fiji

Kiwi pair can leave Fiji with just 2 bags


7 July 2010

A New Zealand couple made prisoners in their own resort in Fiji are being forced out this week with one piece of baggage each.

Military reservists working for a private security company have occupied Lagoon Resort, owned by Hamilton couple Heather and Jim Sherlock, since May.

Mr Sherlock's sister, Noeleen Bernhard, said yesterday that the couple had been told to go this week, leaving behind three containerloads of their personal possessions.

"It's been very intimidating. They are soldiers and they are forcing the couple out, no mistake," she said. The Sherlocks' ejection comes as the military regime of Voreqe Bainimarama has begun issuing decrees – which cannot be challenged in court – effectively seizing foreign private property.

Last month the regime seized the unfinished Momi Bay resort from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was acting as receivers for failed finance company Bridgecorp.

Last week the regime issued a decree that will force Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd to divest itself of 90 per cent of the Fiji Times. It also issued a Surfing Decree invalidating village rentals of surfing spots to resorts and passed an ill-defined Land Use Decree in which leased land can be seized by the regime if it considers it is not being used properly.

Another New Zealand family, who do not wish to be named, have been told to leave their farm by a military-linked ratu or village chief.

Fiji's media remains under heavy censorship and coverage of the land seizures has been limited to brief government statements.

When the Sherlocks' plight was first reported in May, state-controlled Fiji Broadcasting reported that Mr Sherlock had been misquoted and he was happy with what was happening.

Lagoon Resort, at Pacific Harbour, west of Suva, was taken over on May 7, under order of the regime's Fiji Development Bank in a dispute over a F$300,000 (NZ$215,000) loan.

Thirteen military reservists working for a company called Homelink arrived and dismissed the resort's 25 staff, evicted hotel guests and blocked the public road leading to the resort, thereby stopping arriving guests from entering. They also demanded the Sherlocks leave.

Mrs Bernhard, who returned this week from being with her brother, said the couple refused to go and "have remained in possession, under siege, for the last two months, unable to both leave the resort together".

Last week Mr Sherlock served a trespass notice on eight security guards encamped in the resort's foyer, only to be confronted later that night by 16 security guards.

"The siege continues with the bank, who still have not obtained legal possession of the property, but that did not stop the bank from illegally advertising the resort for sale by tender as a mortgage sale last Saturday in the two Fijian daily papers," she said.

The couple were expected to leave the resort this week with just two suitcases. Most of the Sherlock family belongings, including photos, a wedding dress, a car and many rare New Zealand books, have been seized.

The Fiji Information Ministry has yet to reply to a request for comment.

NZ resort manager clears the air
Report by : Elenoa Osborne, Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Former Lagoon Resort owner Jim Sherlock says he is not in a dispute with the Fiji government over the closure of the resort in Pacific Harbour.

The Resort was seized in May by the Fiji Development Bank, who filed that Sherlock has not repaid his loan.

Sherlock says the disagreement is with the FDB over the repayment conditions of a $300,000 loan.

“We had an understanding that I would pay less money monthly to them in return for doing the improvements to the resort until they gave me the loan. Thirty months later, they haven’t given me the loan. I’ve done all the improvements to the resort sure I’ll pay them short payments on my mortgage like last month I paid $9,000. I was supposed to pay $12,000. What they’ve done is use my short payments as leverage against me.”

Sherlock says he will make a claim against FDB for the closure of the resort.

FBC News sought comments from FDB chief executive officer Deve Toganivalu who says he is not at liberty to publicly discuss confidential client matters.

Meanwhile Sherlock has refuted claims in oversea media that he has been told to leave the country with just a suitcase.

“No! That’s a Michael Field one! I have only talked to Michael Field once and that was in May. He told me of a story he was going to print and I told him it was completely wrong. He wasn’t going to let the truth get in the way of a good story so he went ahead and printed it!"

However Sherlock says that security staff were over-vigorous in enforcing the lawyers directives, and blames the FDB lawyers for much of the problem.

Comments posted on

by Suliasi Daunitutu

  • We have turned into thieves using the decrees as justification of our property grab. The friendly nature, the accepting and accomodating behaviour of the native Fijian dissolving in a solution of ill conceived statutes, superman mentallity coated with arrogance, obviously aquired from Bainimarama himself.

    These New Zealand friends who have invested in our resort business have contributed to the economy, provided employment and made alot of good friends during their stay in Fiji, and look what has happened to that friendship after the decrees have been introduced. People with misguided thoughts have hungrily pounced on opportunities that they thought were their right and put a "survival" mechanism" developed over time - in ruins.

    This resort undoubtedly was an investment, and the "survival" of the families, economy and also the couple's dream relied upon its sustenance. The decree made sure that its (resort) life ended with the implementation of these decrees. Vinaka vakalevu Bainimarama and Khaiyum !

    The land and property grab has now started, the landowners could be misled in the way the government is explaining its reasons for the decrees and what they constitute. Do they now invite local business people to fill the void left when Rupert Murdoch's Fiji Times expires ?

    The more we see of Bai and Khaiyum's leadership, the more we feel that our country is desperately in need of help, and unfortunately the people have been hoodwinked to the point that they think, the government is doing all these for their benefit. They don't even know that there is a flip side to that coin !

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