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Friday, March 16, 2007

Fiji National Provident Fund saga : Who is responsible for checking the background of foreign investors?

The Reserve Bank of Fiji and the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Bureau have been blamed by the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) for not checking the background of the management company and directors of FNPF's Natadola hotel/resort development project.

Reproduced below are reports contained in today's Fiji Times, Fijilive and One National News.

"Natadola shock Fiji Times, Friday, March 16, 2007

A DIRECTOR of the company developing the $140million Natadola resort project has quit after his criminal past was revealed.

Two project management companies involved in the project, which will ultimately see a world-class integrated tourism resort and golf course built on 638 hectares of beachfront land, have also been replaced.

Louis Gerard Saliot, French-born chief executive officer of Asia Pacific Resort International (APRIL), the Natadola project managers, quit when confronted with details of his previous conviction, said Natadola Bay Resort Limited chairman, Felix Anthony yesterday.

Mr Anthony said the 60-year-old Saliot had been jailed in Monaco in 1992 for two years for breach of trust and had faced the courts again in 1993 when he was given a three-year term for complicity of bankruptcy, breach of trust, forgery and use of forgeries.

Mr Anthony would not reveal yesterday how the details of Mr Saliot's criminal past had come to light, but revealed Interpol had been used to trace Mr Saliot's history.

A copy of an Interpol document, addressed to FNPF manager Viliame Vodonaivalu and countersigned by Senior Superintendent of Police, Ravi Narayan, was made public at a press conference held by Mr Anthony yesterday.

Mr Anthony said Mr Saliot admitted the convictions when confronted by them.

He said the project managers, APRIL, which was hired as project manager in April 2004, and European project management group COTEBA, have been replaced by HLK Jacobs as interim project managers.

The Natadola Resort project is backed by the Fiji National Provident Fund, which has so far invested $60million into it. Natadola Bay Resort Limited is a subsidiary of FNPF.

Mr Anthony said Mr Saliot had not disclosed his criminal background when applying for his foreign investor's licence, a breach of Fiji's investment laws.

"Both the licence and work permit have been obtained by falsifying documents," Mr Anthony said.

"One of the concerns we have is the role of the FTIB (Fiji Trades and Investment Board) and the RBF (Reserve Bank of Fiji), as they are the people who grant licences without a proper scrutiny of people who want to do business."

Mr Anthony said APRIL had been paid $8million in management fees in three years.

APRIL project manager Keni Dakuidreketi said it would be premature to comment as they were still holding talks with the FNPF.

"We will comment at an appropriate time," he said last night.

Mr Anthony said two of the major concerns raised about the project was it was late by 24 weeks
and the lack of accountability.

He said only 10 per cent of the resort construction has been completed so far.

However, Mr Anthony assured FNPF members that their funds were secured.

"The FNFP Board is fully committed to ensuring that members' funds are secured and protected and to see the completion of the project.

"Given this commitment, we will carefully scrutinise all funds that are utilised for investment purposes,'' he said.

Mr Anthony said investigations into the resort project were continuing with Australian chartered accountant firm of Ernst and Young contracted to carry out an audit. "

"It's Reserve Bank, FTIB fault: Anthony Fijilive, Friday March 16, 2007

The Reserve Bank of Fiji and the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Board have been blamed for failing to properly investigate the people involved in the multi-million dollar Natadola Bay Resort Limited (NBRL) project in Sigatoka, one of whom is alleged to have a criminal record.

NBRL board chairman Felix Anthony claims that Interpol reports show that one of the NBRL directors Louis Gerard Saliot has a criminal record; that he has been jailed for two years for breach of trust, that he was declared bankrupt, and that his bankruptcy proceedings are still continuing before the courts in Monaco.

"And knowing this, we have come to discover that in applying for his foreign investor licence, he (Saliot) did not disclose as is required, his offence or convictions in that and as such obtained his licence without making a full declaration which itself is unlawful.

"We have also come to discover that in also applying for his work permit he did not disclose his convictions and his bankrupt status and again we believe that his work permits were obtained without full disclosure. As such this causes us great concern."

No comments could be obtained from Saliot but another partner Keni Dakuidreketi said they would comment later.

The NBRL is owned 100 per cent by the Fiji National Provident Fund.

In recent weeks, the new NBRL board (appointed in December last year by the new military regime) has been reviewing the Natadola project with two major concerns.

The main concern has been that the project was late by 24 weeks and the lack of accountability in the project.

"As chairman and board of the NBRL, we have has been very concerned with the progress of that project itself. It is a huge project, probably the biggest the FNPF has ever undertaken," Anthony says.

"The total project when completed would be in excess of $340 million but the hotel project itself is worth $140m of which up to date FNPF has already invested about $60m of the workers' money.

"As the board of NBRL we have been very concerned at how the project has progressed so far. There has been a delay of currently the project running 24 weeks late. And when we talk about delays it means costing FNPF much more money."

He said that apart from that the supervision of the project has been of major concern to them.

Anthony says the NBRL in 2004 hired APRIL (Asia Pacific Resort International Ltd) to be project managers for this development while COTEBA was hired as construction managers.

Since then, APRIL was paid $8m in management fees. APRIL's principals are Saliot and Dakuidreketi.

Anthony says that NBRL is not satisfied with the performance of APRIL and COTEBA and as a result have been replaced with HLK Jacobs appointed interim project managers and a quantity surveyor has also been appointed to work on the project.

Anthony said that in issuing the licence, the FTIB has a role to investigate the background of people it issues licences to. "They failed."

He said that the RBF also has a responsibility to do background searches on people before they allow people to come in and do business. "They failed and this is simply not on."

"This only exposes the laxity in our system." No comments could be obtained immediately from the RBF or the FTIB.

Anthony says it is FNPF's own initiative that they have come up with these findings.

"I think both these organizations have a lot to be desired in this area and not only that but because of their laxity organization's like us suffer.

"And it is not cheap, it costs us a lot of money when we have to restructure a project that is already in progress and this causes delays and all sorts of problem. And we are talking about workers' money," he said.

He says Saliot has tendered his resignation as a director with immediate effect. "

"Reserve Bank not to be blamed over Natadola project One National News 16 Mar 2007

The Reserve Bank of Fiji says it shouldn't be blamed for what has transpired in the deal between April Development and Natadola Bay Resorts Limited.

In a statement the bank says it's not the role of the Reserve Bank to check the backgrounds of foreigners who wish to undertake business in Fiji.

The bank says it was never asked by FNPF to undertake a background check on Gerard Saliot (Selio) or his company, adding this responsibility cannot be abdicated to the agencies of Government or the Reserve Bank.

In this case, the bank says this responsibility rests squarely on the FNPF Board.

And the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Bureau says given the latest findings, they will now go through the process of reviewing the registrations granted to the Natadola Marine Resort Limited and APRIL Development.

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