Reef Wreckers Want Another Go In Fiji
Keen readers of Swellnet may recall that back in 2019 the spotlight was thrust onto Freesoul, a Chinese property developer caught tearing up coral reef at Mololo Island, Fiji. Freesoul's plans to build a casino were hindered by a fringing reef and thus the reef was bulldozed.
If that alone wasn't bad enough, Freesoul employees were caught on film manhandling Aussie surfers Nav Fox and Woody Jack, who part-own the neighbouring property. That footage was shot by Mel Reid from Newsroom, a plucky NZ news outlet that fearlessly punch above their weight.
Shortly afterwards, Mel and her film crew attempted to interview Freesoul employees in Suva when they were arrested and detained; the story suddenly taking on a new and more sinister dimension, especially in a country with a troubled history of military coups and press censorship.
When he heard of the journalists plight, then-PM Frank Bainimarama released the trio, issued an apology, and blamed a, “small group of rogue police officers.” Subsequently, Freesoul was fined AUD $1 million and ordered to clean up the site. Bainimarama also attempted to remove Freesoul from Fiji, though it didn't happen before his party lost power, replaced by Sitiveni Rabuka.
Far from chastened, Mel Reid returned to Fiji last month and found Freesoul are playing the long game. Having paid their fine - though ignored the clean up order - they still intending to build their casino, however they're waiting for the political and social situation to change in their favour.
With phone calls and emails going unanswered, Nav Fox and Woody Jack visited the Fijian parliament requesting information on Freesoul. When a minister met them, it became clear that despite their appalling environmnetal record, Freesoul had no intention of leaving Malolo alone, and in fact were planning to increase their presence in Fiji.
“I will not disclose the position of the government, but so far as I am concerned [the developers] have applied to undertake development on (Malolo) Island," said Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Hon Sakiusa Tubuna. "And also they are looking at some alternative sites particularly in the Nausori Highlands where they’re going to develop a hotel. As you know there’s huge demand on hotel space in this country. Of course we encourage foreign investors to come and invest in one.”