Fiji environmental crime verdict ‘sets precedent’

ABC Radio Law Report interview about Freesoul Real Estate Development Ltd who had days to appeal a ground-breaking fine imposed by Fiji’s High Court after the resort developer carried out unauthorised works on a remote island. And environmental law in the Pacific.

ABC Radio Law Report with Damien Carrick – May 2022 – Fiji environmental crime verdict ‘sets precedent’


ABC Radio – Law Report – Details

  • Duration: 28min 38sec
  • Broadcast: Tue 31 May 2022, 5:30pm


Further Information

State v Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) Pte Ltd [2022] FJHC 201; HAC282.2021 (28 April 2022)

Fiji environmental crime verdict 'sets precedent'

Fiji environmental crime verdict ‘sets precedent’

ABC Radio Law Report with Damien Carrick – May 2022

Fiji environmental crime verdict ‘sets precedent’

This is an ABC podcast.

The failed push by China for a security pact covering the pacific region comes on the back of a decade of significant economic investment but the billions of dollars in aid funding to the pacific is eclipsed by even greater Chinese business investments.

In Fiji an extraordinary environmental law case have been playing out over the last few years involving Chinese luxury resort developer Freesoul Real Estate Development Ltd. The company has just days left to appeal against the groundbreaking fine of F$650,000 imposed last month by Fiji’s high court

It’s the first time a judge has imposed a significant fine for a company breaching Fiji ‘s environmental protection laws. Freesoul Real Estate Development Ltd has been slapped with an aggregate fine of F$1 million for carrying out unauthorised development on Malolo island without permits.

The judge said the sentence must reflect the communities disapproval of the offenders lack of respect for the environment.

It does set a precedent to other developers that if you do get caught the courts will take it seriously

Sending a powerful message

As well as finding the company F$1 million the Chinese developer was also required to post a F$1.4 million bond until it rehabilitates the affected area.

Marine Ecology Consulting – Helen Sykes, Owner

Independent marine ecology consultant Helen Sykes gave evidence at the original trial about the damage caused by the company.

“The development is on Malolo island in the Mamanucas, which for those who don’t know Fiji is a section of islands just north of our main airport area of Nadi.

“It’s a high tourism area and this was going to be another tourism development in that area. So this was their baseline report before they had any development done

So I visited the site in January 2018. I did my normal look at the marine environment before any development was done.

“I was then called back again in later 2018, to carry out a damage assessment of what had actually happened in the duration. So I went back again in December. So I visited this site twice in two years

“The largest damage was within the mangrove forest where a boardwalk 20m wide and 300m long was actually bulldozed down so that they could clear a channel and make this wooden board walk going through the middle.

“So the larger damage was actually to the mangroves.

You were, I guess, highlighting the long term damage and the serious damage especially caused by the removal of the mangroves; is that the the main thrust of your evidence?

“Yes, that’s the main thrust of my evidence. These mangrove forests are probably hundreds of years old and I would estimate it would take at least 20 years after the boardwalk had been taken down, and the entire reef flat and mangrove flat has been restored to flatness, before we can start planting.

“So it’s my estimation that this actual process will take about 2 years to do the engineering works to allow us to start planting, and then up to 20 years for the mangroves to actually grow back to functionality.

This trial was heard I think in the Magistrates Court in Fiji and the matter was then referred to the High Court of Fiji and just recently the high court handed down a quite a serious sentence. This is the first time there’s a criminal sentence and a serious fine because the corporation is not an individual who can be put in prison but they had it down a serious fine didn’t they ?

“They actually handed down the maximum fine that the law allows. The big significance of this is this is the first time that the Department of Environment has carried out a successful criminal prosecution.

“So it fits precedence across the board in Fiji and I think that’s what’s exciting about it, the right to wrong with this particular development will be debated a lot further yet.

“Yes, but it sets a very interesting precedent that will enable the Department of Environment to show their teeth a lot more in case of of future developments that go wrong.

So it’s a very important precedent in the sense that it it establishes that the authorities take this seriously and they will prosecute breaches.

“Absolutely is, environmental law in Fiji has been a slow progress as things are in the pacific islands. So we’ve only had the regulations that require EIA since 2007 and this is a step by step progression.

“The Department of Environment is not the most resourced in the country, they’re limited in some of the aspects they can act in but I think this is very encouraging. It shows that the Department of Environment is strong, it shows that they’re willing to take action and I think it will act as a major deterrent in future cases.

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