If This is True, Government Credibility Demands the Culprits Face Court Charges

Coup4.5 has published a detailed account by US businessman Ken Honig of alleged harassment by Fiji biosecurity arising from their claim that he illegally imported an iguana lizard and set it lose on his 70-acre property on Qamea Island, to the east of Taveuni. His story was also briefly reported by RadioNZInternational. 
 
The Biosecurity claim was apparently based on the evidence of his former property manager, Jo Kolinibarava, who he had been trying to dismiss for thieving and other offences and Jerry Surumi, Naivivi village manager who, according to Honig, also stole from his property.



So far, Honig's account is credible and has no political implications. This is merely a case of backstabbing by a disgruntled employee and a village manger trying to protect his own back. Further, Honig says it would be very difficult for him to smuggle an iguana though LA security. He claims the lizards were already on his property when he bought it in 1998. This would be hard to prove, one way or the other. 
 
Biosecurity's concern is also credible and their attempts to prevent Honig leaving Fiji before he had paid fines for his alleged offence is unexceptional. 
 
Where things become muddy is when Honig writes about the circumstances of his dealings with Biosecurity. He says he was approached while fishing by men claiming to be from Biosecurity but who provided no identification. Biosecurity failed to turn up to several arranged meetings. He was detained without charge in Suva for several days and was prevented from leaving the country with his wife and children. The police confiscated his passport. 
 
This can be put down to inefficiency, with Biosecurity and Police not knowing what the other was doing. All very irritating, and hardly a situation that when retold to travel agents in the US, will encourage US visitors and investors. In fact, it will be a public relations disaster coming at a time when Fiji is trying to attract long-term visitors. (See last Saturday's Super Yachts Super Idea.)

But I am more concerned about Honig's allegations about what, if true, is extortion and corruption by senior government officials. He writes:

November 7
This evening I finally received a telephone call from both (Elvis) Silvistrini and Cama (Tuberi). I was told in very simple terms that this entire problem would go away if I made cash payments directly to Silvistrini ($25,000) and Cama ($15,000). There would be no recordation or acknowledgement, and nobody else in Bio Security, the Government, or my legal team could know of this arrangement. If these payments were not made, I could expect to stay in Fiji “a very long time”.


November 10
Three Weeks Detention To Date. I made the decision to accede to the November 7th
telephone calls/extortion demands from the gentlemen in charge of Bio Security and had my associates make cash payments of $25,000 directly to CEO Elvis Silvistrini and $15,000 directly to Legal Officer Cama. Obviously these were illegal demands and I suspect illegal payments as the funds were delivered in brown paper bags to Silvistrini and Cama outside of the office. I was told I would have my release letter by the end of the day, November 11th.


November 11
Ironically, this afternoon the High Court of Fiji issued a court order demanding my immediate release as well as my freedom to move around, in and out of Fiji without further harassment or detention. The court order also left the door wide open for me to pursue criminal as well as civil action against the government entity Bio Security. Unfortunately, I had already paid the extortion demands of Silvistrini and Cama as well. Immigration finally removed me from their blacklist a little before 5:00p.m., I caught the 7:00p.m. flight to the international airport in Nadi and boarded the 11:00p.m. flight home


Coup4.5 also published 30 comments on this story, most of them anti-government and many with racial overtones, which is “normal” for Coup4.5, but, significantly, most doubted Honig's story.

Typical comments included:

With all the money this person has, one would have assumed he would have at least protected himself with some camera shots from the distance. There's also such a thing as turning your mobile phone on without the other person knowing and recording conversations. Sorry C4.5 - a far-fetched story at this stage!!! Will need to see some evidence to believe this.

I have no time for present regime. However When it comes to Fiji whites and those whites who elect to settle in Fiji, can be big problem at times. They can be very nice in their own country but once they in Fiji, they start acting like Fiji whites.

Interesting story. Police did their work and couldn't find any criminal activity by this man. On the other hand BioSecurity seems to be riddled with Criminals who are following Bainimarama's example by engaging in Extortion and Kidnapping (illegal detention of a human being).

I don't dispute that Frank is ruining the country and the economy and like you and almost everyone else on this blogsite I would love to participate in any genuine home-grown uprising to topple him. But people who offer stories such as this, without accompanying evidence are also helping ruin investor confidence.

Somebody has to be accountable to this invasive species. Our forefathers were tricked by "whites" and foreigners and still today, the outsiders continue to repeat what early settlers have done but maybe in a different form. On way or the other, one of the property owners in Taveuni has to answer to the concern of the local people.


I also have a problem with the crooking (?)  of a govt body and this has been going on for WAY longer than the current govt has been in power so its got nothing to do with them.

The Office of the Attorney-General says (No.2087/MOI) a thorough investigation will be conducted if Mr Honig submits an official complaint. This is a perfectly proper response in a normal situation but little in Fiji at present represents a normal situation.  Government cannot allow Honig's accusations to remain unanswered. Its plans to increase civil service efficiency and remove corruption and misuse of office are compromised. Silvistrini, Tuberi and possibly others have a case to answer, and a full enquiry is urgently needed into Honig's accusations, whether or not he makes an official complaint.  To do otherwise is to play into the hands of Government's detractors.

Comments

Croz Walsh said…
I received this email from a reader that I've slightly edited to conceal his identity:

I skipped through your article about Mr Honig and the iguana episode. In the skipping however, I did not note that you had approached the horse's mouth - Biosecurity Authority Fiji - to enquire of the true story: indeed, I perceive that you assumed that there had been attempted corruption on the part of the BAF officials - something that you complain that others do in lieu of a proper enquiry. If I write wrongly, I apologise, but it seems to me that you are quick to blame; I expected better of you.

It happens that Mr Honig's complaint is completely wrong. You will see in FijiVillage reports of last Friday (18th) refutations on that (both from the PM's office and the head of Biosecurity). My brother was attending a meeting of FIST (Fiji Invasive Species Taskforce) - also attended by BAF - and he told me that Mr Honig's allegations are FALSE. Completely FALSE. You noted of course, that he waited until he got back to USA before making them?

One reason that Mr Honig was not fined tens of thousands of dollars is that he brought in the original iguanas (two releases, mind you) when older legislation was in effect - he is lucky on that aspect. In the article, Honig complained that he had spent $4 million in upgrading his property etc in Fiji, and that it had been his 'dream'.

Offspring of the iguana Honig brought into Fiji have now spread from Qamea Island to Taveuni where they are well established and numbering now into the low thousands. This american iguana is tolerant of salt water; it has now appeared on Koro Island, and worse still, in the Tuniloa Peninsula - Buca Bay side. It is recorded as damaging dalo crops and consuming other vegetables; it is costing the Fiji government and the local environment NGO 'MareqetiViti-NatureFiji' thousands of dollars to attempt containment and undertake awareness campaign ... It's effect on Fiji's biodiversity is considerable already; it will be tremendous and irrecoverable in the near future.
Meanwhile, all you can say and side with is this rogue's complaint that BAF tried to bribe him. Shame!

Please look at the MareqetiViti website, www.naturefiji.org/. You may also care to email Nunia Thomas of MareqetiViti (nuniat@natureviti.org) and.or Ilaisa Dakaica (iranavuna@gmail.com, or ilaisa.dakaica@agriculture.gov.fj) for the true story on Mr Honig and the effect of the american iguana (already) on Fiji's resources.

Croz's comment. I published both sides of the story because some comment was needed on the story published by Coup4.5, RadioNZI and goodness knows where else. I contacted a Government office and asked for their comment but received no reply. This is often the case.

I made no comment on the iguana issue. Without further information I found both sides credible, and I said so. My concern was limited to possible bribery. Has an official statement been made that the money is properly accounted for? My resources and time are limited. Once again, I appeal to readers with particular knowledge and expertise to be forthcoming and help me avoid unnecessary doubts and misrepresentations. Or, in this case, contact people at the email addresses given and ask them to write something for my blog. It is not too late.
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