Fiji court fines Malolo developers in nation’s first ‘environmental crime’

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Malolo Island in western Fiji
Malolo Island is the largest of the Mamanuca group off Fiji's west coast ... a controversial Chinese resort development company Freesoul Limited has been fined FJ$1 million for environmental breaches. Image: RNZ

By Lice Movono, RNZ Pacific correspondent in Suva

A landmark case in Fiji today at the High Court in the capital Suva issued what is the country’s first environmental crime sentence.

Controversial Chinese resort development company Freesoul Limited was fined FJ$1 million for breaching two counts of Fiji’s Environmental Management Act.

The company is developing a resort on Malolo Island in the popular tourist hotspot, the Mamanuca Islands.

The company was issued a prohibition notice in June 2018 after neighbours and indigenous landowners shed light on extensive environmental damage it was causing on the coast at Malolo Island.

According to court documents, the company was issued with a prohibition notice by the Department of Environment after landowners and neighbours alerted authorities of extensive coral and mangrove damage.

The company had dug an extensive sea channel and removed local marine life to gain direct access to the resort development.

The DOE had authorised only land works because an Environmental Impact Assessment had not been done on marine works.

Freesoul denied responsibility
When charged for unauthorised development, Freesoul denied responsibility but the Magistrate Seini Puamau, who heard the initial case, was not satisfied, given DOE evidence produced in court showing Freesoul apologising for the damage.

The case was referred to High Court judge Justice Daniel Gounder who ordered Freesoul pay the DOE FJ$1 million for the rehabilitation of the marine environment damage.

Justice Gounder said he was unable to issue a custodial sentence given the EMA provides for jail terms for persons not corporations.

“This case is about environment, criminal responsibility and punishment,” Justice Gounder said.

“Although the offending is not the most serious type, the offenders culpability is high.”

Justice Gounder sentenced Freesoul with the highest penalty possible under the EMA.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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