American Illegally Detained in Fiji
October 20, 2011
Thank you for your follow up and sincere concern regarding the situation here in Fiji. As you are the owner of one of the largest South Pacific travel agencies in the U.S. that has sent tens of thousands of tourists here, I agree with your concerns about the arbitrary and capricious laws and rules currently applied in Fiji.
Yes, I have spent a large sum of money as a tourist here since 1987 and since 1998 have invested over $4 million U.S. Dollars here in projects that have created ongoing work for many Fijians, but at this juncture I will be selling all assets here and will terminate all business ties to Fiji.
Pursuant to your request, I will do my best to explain to you the issue. Essentially, I have been forbidden to leave Fiji by the Immigration Department at the request of the “Bio Security” Department. I have NOT been charged with any crime, yet Bio Security has told immigration to refuse my exit and I simply cannot leave the country until …..??? I volunteered for a 2 hour interview/interrogation at Taveuni Airport on the 20th, was issued a $1000 fine on trumped up charges and was told I must pay the fine to leave the country. My wife, my 4 year old daughter and my 8 year old son were detained at Nadi Airport by Immigration (to question my wife about me – they were ultimately allowed to leave) and although I had paid the fine previously (without acknowledging any guilt)I was detained, interrogated, and refused permission to leave the country when I arrived at the airport to meet my family later in the evening.
THE ISSUE AS I UNDERSTAND IT:
I am told there is an “American Iguana” (no, the species does not exist) that I have been accused of bringing into the country and that accusation is the basis for my detainment. I have not found this lizard at all on Yaroi, my 70 acre Qamea plantation I have owned since 1999.
Apparently my former property caretaker, Joe, told the Bio Security Dept in 2009 that I was responsible for the lizard importation. Jo Kolinibarava was hired in 1999 and “left” my property in 2009. I say “left” because I had been trying to terminate his employment since 2003 but he refused to leave my property. I filed police reports against Jo in Taveuni in 2004 and 2006 for various issues including burglary, breaking and entering, threats of violence and bodily harm, personal property destruction, selling my personal property, grand theft, theft of fuel, theft of cash crops, etc. The property general manager that resides in the Fijian capital, Suva, is a kind and generous man and would continually attempt to work with Jo after I would return stateside. Ultimately I cut off all funds to the property until my demand that Jo vacate the property was heard. After Jo vacated my property in 2009, he originally told Bio Security that I was the individual that had brought the lizard into the country in 2003, and then subsequently told them the year 2000. In the original interview, Jo told them I brought the lizards in a grey plastic container, but provided a clear plastic container as proof from some 8 to 11 years ago depending on the version of Jo’s story. As Los Angeles International Airport is one of the most security conscious airports in the world, I’m unclear as to how I brought the lizards here, as I understand their allegations. Nonetheless, that started the ball rolling and in 2010 a police unit with a Search Warrant searched the offices of my general manager in Suva and then escorted him to my property in Qamea and then proceeded to perform a thorough search of my property and personal residence for four plus hours. Nothing was found in the report filed by the police and the case against me was closed. When I arrived here on the 13th of Oct, Jerry Surumi, village manager of Naiivi Village informed Bio Security of my presence. Bio Security immediately reopened the case against me and as there is no constitution in place they have elected to detain me indefinitely (Jerry Surumi is currently under police investigation for stealing $30,000 of a $50,000 gift I gave to the village in 2009, has been fired as village manager, has stolen cash crops from my property and has physically attacked my general manager).
I am now in Suva, Fiji awaiting an audience with Bio Security, Immigration, Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and the Prosecutor’s office. I have been detained here for one week and the only movement in this issue against me is that Bio Security has convinced the police to reopen their criminal case against me. Meetings with Bio Security have been scheduled by me and canceled by them. My legal counsel has been provided no guidance or direction as to the governments actions against me and is essentially chasing their tail. I contacted the U.S. Embassy day one but they have made it clear I am on my own. The government here has recently booted out the Australian and New Zealand Ambassadors and their relationship with the United States is similar in nature. I have more than enough holdings here for the government to grant my release and place a lien on my property (which is what will eventually happen), yet right now it is quite obvious this is strictly a show of power in game where I could never know the rules.
MY HISTORY WITH BIO SECURITY
Approached while fishing on my boat in the middle of the ocean with my wife, 4 year old daughter and 8 year old son by a village boat with several people on board. With no identification and no uniforms these people wanted to board my vessel and naturally I refused them and moved away from them. Upon calling the Matei Police Post to report this incident, I was informed that these people were the police and Bio Security and they wanted me “to assist them in an investigation”. I made an appointment to meet them at my property October 19th, voluntarily, for an interview.
Bio Security failed to show up for appointment
Again I voluntarily made another appointment to meet with police and Bio Security at the Matei Police Post for a half hour interview as my family made our way back to Nadi to head home to Los Angeles. The meeting lasted two hours, I was directly accused by police of bringing lizards to Qamea. Despite my protest, police wanted my passport and drivers license “STRICTLY to let the US Embassy know of the interview”, which turned out to be completely untrue as the Embassy does not ask for, nor is ever provided with this information for a simple interview. Instead, police gave my information to Bio Security so they could issue an immediate cash fine to me for $1,000 for “failing to obey an order to stop my vessel and allow them to board”.
I paid the $1,000 fine, specifically without acknowledging any guilt, at the Nadi Bio Security office to enable me to leave the country. While at that office, I spoke directly with Bio Security legal officer Cama Tuberi who advised me that all issues with me are now resolved.
I made a telephone call to Bio Security CEO Elvis Silvistrini to lodge a complaint and he told me to stay in Fiji to “voluntarily assist with an ongoing investigation”. After a short detention at Nadi Airport, my wife and children were allowed to leave the country. I arrived at the airport later and was advised that I was not allowed to leave the country by order of Bio Security.
I made a 2:00 p.m. meeting to meet Bio Security in Suva with my legal counsel and Bio canceled the meeting at 1:30p.m.
Bio Security Legal Officer Cama canceled meetings with me and counsel set for 10:00 a.m., 12:00, and 2:00p.m. Upon arriving at Bio Security offices in Suva for a scheduled 3:00 p.m. meeting, they informed us that they had just canceled that meeting as well.
There has been no contact with Bio Security since October 25. They have not talked to me, questioned me, charged me nor have they allowed me “to assist them with an investigation” however, I am not allowed to leave the country. Legal officer Cama of Bio Security contacted my associate to schedule a meeting today with myself, police, and my legal counsel. When that meeting did not occur, my associate called Cama to inquire as to what happened. Cama proceeded to hang up the telephone on him. I immediately contacted CEO Silvistrini and he claimed to know nothing about any of these issues. I inquired when Bio would need me “to assist them with an investigation” and Silvistrini replied “soon”. Silvistrini refuses to meet with me, talk with me, charge me or release me.
I HAVE NOW BEEN DETAINED FOR TWO WEEKS. I have not assisted anybody with any investigation as no one will speak with me. The only thing that has happened in all of this time is that Bio Security has asked the police to conduct the IDENTICAL investigation that the police conducted almost two years ago.
Interestingly, Bio Security has been doing their best to place stories in the tv, radio, and newspaper almost daily regarding the villainous American Iguana. Apparently this species will attack, can blind you with one swipe of their tail, infect you with salmonella from their carnivorous, non-release bite, and will wipe out the fruit and vegetable life on the islands. However, the villagers claim in similar articles that the lizard is very difficult to find or catch, and has become a new food source that “tastes like chicken”.
Police have cleared me again on their second investigation and issued a clearance letter to Immigration. Bio Security agents have called my associate at home to ask him privately for money. I have been to the Director and Asst Director of Immigration twice to get my name cleared to leave the country to no avail as they refuse my requests unless they get a signed document from Bio Security. Both the police and Dept of Public Prosecution (DPP) have contacted Bio Security several times to have my release letter issued, but Bio Security CEO Elvis Silvestrini and Legal Officer Cama refuse to do so and claim they are researching other methods of charging me. To date, they have at best a $400.00 fjd (approx. $200.00 usd) claim against me – should they charge me and I plead guilty to that charge.
This evening I finally received a telephone call from both Silvistrini and Cama. 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”.
Bio Security continues to refuse a release letter. Today my attorney’s filed documents in the Fiji High Court under the U.N. Human Rights Commission Laws that will seek my release as well as criminal and civil redress against Bio Security for my illegal detainment.
Today as well I was forced to cancel my 50th Birthday celebration, scheduled for November 12th. I had been planning this event since February and had rented out a restaurant/nightclub, hired two popular bands from the 1980’s, and had a confirmed guest list of over 150 people. This cancellation will result in the loss of $40,000 in non refundable deposits. Today I also canceled a surfing trip to Nicaragua with my 8 year old son KJ scheduled for next weekend, canceled a mountain climbing expedition in the Andes scheduled for early December, was unable to attend a scheduled campout with my son KJ last weekend, and have missed numerous school functions with both of my children. I have been unable to participate in numerous business issues that need my immediate attention and that could result in future losses.
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.
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This story has been floating around Fiji for the last few weeks . Now that it has been circulated to a wide range of media it can only be considered to be in the public domain. If the claims are untrue then there needs to be an investigation and the two people concerned cleared of the allegations now circulating about them. The people accused in this email must be considered innocent until proven guilty . FijiToday believes that an investigation of the alledged corruption is required if the government is to maintain its stand on building a corruption free Fiji. It will be interesting to see if any of our local newsrooms print the story. The Times and the Sun have copes of this email but will most likely kill the story rather than show the government in a poor light. The link between the alleded payment of a bribe and the court order for release also needs to be investigated.
The Ministry of Primary Industries has the following on its website………… Blame the expat.
Silent and sinister – is the American iguana here to stay?
2 Dec 2010
PICTURE if you will a small seaplane flying low towards the sheltered bay of a sunlit sandy beach on a tropical island. The seaplane lands with a splash and as the seawater ripples gently outwards in concentric circles, the door opens with a whir. A person steps out onto the faded cement of the pier and lands with a slight thud. In this person’s hands is a metallic cage (or more than one) and from behind the bars the reptilian eyes of frightened and probably agitated American iguanas (Iguana iguana) are the first thing any observer nearby would see. This is a possible recreation of the fateful moment that the American iguana was first introduced to Fiji in 2000. Substitute a yacht or a normal airplane and either way the story would be the same. Enter iguana… and what followed is now history.These first captive iguanas have since been released by the expatriate that brought them in, and established breeding populations on the islands of Qamea, Matagi, Laucala and Taveuni. There is also a high likelihood that the American iguana has made it across to Vanua Levu Island and begun breeding there as well. In February this year, a report was made by an inter-island ferry service that a passenger had brought an individual iguana to Viti Levu Island. The fate of the iguana is unknown and may have been a pregnant female, which would mean that a population may have been established on Viti Levu.The Biosecurity Authority of Fiji Islands (BAFI) was alerted about strange reptiles on Qamea in 2002 and they confiscated a tortoise from an expatriate then, but by then the iguanas had been let loose. An unsuccessful survey by the University of the South Pacific (USP) followed in 2003. Although there were various reports from Qamea, it was not until 2009, following the first photograph of an adult American iguana on Matagi island that a joint survey was undertaken by USP, the Department of Environment, BAFI, and the National Trust of Fiji, which confirmed the presence of feral American iguanas on Qamea.