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Fiji: Locals accuse Chinese resort developer of working without environmental approvals; resort site in dispute

A Chinese resort developer, Freesoul Real Estate, has been accused of working without the required environmental approvals and poor environmental management, resulting in polluted fishing grounds and destruction of mangroves and reefs. Locals impacted by the resort development on Malolo Island, Fiji, also question the developer's land ownership rights. The Fijian Government says it will pursue legal action against the developer. Media reports are linked below. 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Freesoul Real Estate to respond to the allegations. The company did not respond.

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Article
3 April 2019

Newsroom journalists in Fiji released

Author: Tim Murphy, Newsroom

4 April 2019

...Newsroom's three journalists have been released from custody. Reporter Melanie Reid says police chiefs decided after talking to the trio that they had no criminal intent. They had spent around 13 hours in detention at the main police station after trying to interview the developer behind controversial environmental damage on the island of Malolo.

...Three Newsroom journalists were jailed by police in Suva, Fiji...after trying to interview a controversial Chinese resort developer accused of environmental desecration of an island in the tourist jewel of the Mamanucas.

Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, investigations editor Melanie Reid and cameraman Hayden Aull are in a holding room at the Totogo police station after developer Freesoul Real Estate accused them of criminal trespass....

The journalists had visited Freesoul's Suva offices seeking an interview but been told to leave. Hours later, while they interviewed a lawyer acting for villagers of the damaged Malolo Island, Fijian police located their rental car and arrived and escorted them to the police station for questioning.

Before their phones were taken, Reid said she, Jennings and Aull had visited the Freesoul office to talk about the Malolo damage....

..."This is trumped up and ridiculous," said Reid....

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Company non-response
+ 简体中文 - Hide
28 February 2019

斐宿国际未回应

我们邀请斐宿国际(Freesoul Real Estate)回应有关其在斐济马洛洛岛违规开发度假胜地活动的指控。其没有回应。

+ 繁體中文 - Hide
28 February 2019

斐宿國際未回應

我們邀請斐宿國際( Freesoul Real Estate )回應有關其在斐濟馬洛洛島違規開發度假勝地活動的指控。其沒有回應。

Company non-response
28 February 2019

Freesoul did not respond

We invited Freesoul Real Estate to respond to allegations relating to its activities at the holiday resort under development at Malolo Island, Fiji. It did not respond. 

Article
28 February 2019

Villagers in dispute over Malolo resort land

Author: Radio New Zealand

1 March 2019

Some villagers on Fiji's Malolo Island want land earmarked for a tourism development surveyed to determine its rightful owner.

...The villagers' lawyer Saimoni Nacolawa said they had sought legal action and a magistrate will hear the case in Nadi....

He said other villagers, who gave Freesoul Real Estate permission to build a resort, do not even own the land.

..."This land has not been surveyed. We have only got traditional boundaries. From that traditional boundaries, we cannot determine the area or the acreage - acreage can only be determined when you have extended boundaries.

"Even though they have this traditional allotment for the dependents, they do not have the registered native land title."

...Freesoul, in a statement, denied it had breached Fiji's environmental laws on Malolo.

It said during a visit to China, Mr Bainimarama invited business houses to invest in Fiji.

Freesoul said it had invested $US500 million in the Malolo resort and had received support from key stakeholders.

However, the government said it would prosecute Freesoul for breaching environmental conditions for its project.

The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has sanctioned charges against Freesoul under the Environment Management Act.

Read the full post here

Article
27 February 2019

Massive resort desecrates Fiji island jewel

Author: Melanie Reid, Newsroom

7 February 2019

Environmentalists and local villagers on a Fijian resort island are aghast at a monumental Chinese hotel development which has ripped out part of a reef, dumped waste, blocked other landowners and disturbed traditional fisheries - before gaining legal approvals.

...Chinese developer Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) has ignored two court orders to stop the destruction and is accused of running roughshod over Fijian environmental law, permits, the environment, and the island locals.

...The Chinese developers did purchase a lease of part of the site through two local clans in early 2018. But the majority of island residents do not want the developer to destroy their ancestral fishing grounds and are now taking legal action to take back their land and the foreshore around it.

The Freesoul lease has a condition that the company complies with Fijian law. Lawyers, other landowners and locals say this condition has been breached countless times....

...Among the complaints of serious environmental damage already perpetrated by Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) are:

- illegal reclamation of foreshore and beach access

- dredging and smashing of an estimated 5000 square metres of reef to build a boat channel on a beach it did not even have rights over

- subsequent illegal dumping of dead reef on protected sea grass

- destabilisation of hillsides after stripping of vegetation

- silt/raw sewage and rubbish dumped into protected seaside mangroves

- a fuel tank stored on foreshore reclamation

- trucks and excavators driving over the reef at low tides

All of the above without a foreshore lease or - at the time - an EIA approval.

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Article
11 February 2019

Malolo affair a warning to landowners, says Fiji MP

Author: Radio New Zealand

12 February 2019

A Fiji opposition MP says events on the island of Malolo should be a warning to all landowners in the country.

Villagers on Malolo said a Chinese resort development has damaged their fishing grounds, mangroves and reefs.

But the developer, Freesoul Real Estate, has defended its work saying it followed all the processes required under its leases.

The company has been charged with failing to comply with a Prohibition Notice and for carrying out development without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment Report.

The MP Lenora Qereqeretabua said all Fiji landowners need to be aware of the impacts development can have....

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Article
11 February 2019

More legal action likely against Fiji resort developer

Author: Radio New Zealand

12 February 2019

The Fiji government says it had not given any approval to a Malolo island resort developer for development of the foreshore.

The developer Freesoul has claimed its project is legitimate and it has been following due process.

...inspected the site...found considerable damage to the foreshore, mangroves and seabed.

Freesoul showed total disregard for Fiji's laws, the communities and the landowners on Malolo, Mr Sudhakar said.

...The Environment Minister Mahendra Reddy told FBC News officials and police are on Malolo to ensure no further activity is being carried out by the developer.

Read the full post here

Article
10 February 2019

Fiji locals upset at resort development's damage

Author: Radio New Zealand

11 February 2019

Villagers on Fiji's Malolo Island are upset that foreign developers of a resort are reportedly working without the required environmental approvals.

And the locals are outraged that raw sewage from the construction camps are entering their fishing grounds and causing other environmental damage.

...The Chinese developer, Freesoul Real Estate, is building a resort of about 370 bures on Malolo, which is off Fiji's main island Viti Levu.

...[L]ocals are outraged at what they say is roughshod construction and poor environmental management that's killed fish, destroyed mangroves and reefs, and seen exotic trees felled.

...[T]he site's ownership is disputed and the villagers also want that matter resolved.

...Bradley Robinson, who is the chief executive of Fiji Gateway, which operates another resort on Malolo, says public meetings as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process were held at the village.

..."What we need to understand is the landowners themselves granted the lease and granted consent for that development to happen on that site. Not that the landowners can give a developer a building approval, but the landowners themselves granted the lease.

...The New Zealand website, Newsroom...reported that the developers ignored two court orders and are running roughshod over Fijian environmental law, permits, the environment and the locals.

...[T]he government...announced that it's likely Freesoul will face criminal charges.

An opposition MP Lenora Qereqeretabua has called for an independent inquiry into what's happening on Malolo.

"If this company has gotten away. How come so many Chinese companies are being allowed to get away with flouting our laws? We've got good laws. We just don't police them. And I don't think the punishment that is being given out is severe enough to discourage this kind of behaviour from - in particular - Chinese companies."...

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