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Elite network behind Paga Hill Estate

February 16, 2017 11 comments

Minister Justin Tkatchenko has this week called for a Commission of Inquiry into the murky deals behind acquisition of Paga Hill land and the abuse suffered by its former residents at the hands of Gummy Fredriksson and the Paga Hill Development Company.

Meanwhile, PHDC has issued a defence, claiming it has indefeasible title over Paga Hill, winning every legal challenge in District, National and Supreme Courts’.

We think we need to look again at the facts, and republish here an article from May 2016:

paga hill

Peter O’Neill, Michael Nali, Gudmundur Fridriksson, Rex Paki, Jimmy Maladina, Dame Carol Kidu, Labi Amaiu, Tom Amaiu, these are just some of the names uncovered through an extensive probe that looks into the power players behind Port Moresby’s controversial Paga Hill Estate development, and their business partners.

The investigation was conducted by a senior criminologist Dr Kristian Lasslett, who began forensic research into the real-estate venture during 2012.

In the post, which first appeared on statecrime.org, Dr Lasslett raises new questions over the shareholders and executives standing behind the luxury real-estate development on Port Moresby’s harbour foreshores, and their connection not only to some of the biggest names in Southern Highlands politics, but numerous major corruption scandals.

Dr Lasslett connects Paga Hill executives and shareholders to major players into the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance and the joint special inquiry into the Public Curator’s Office conducted by the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee.

He also provides evidence documenting potentially illegal land transactions lying at the foundations of the luxury real-estate project.

And this couldn’t come at a more important time. It was recently revealed that the Paga Hill Development Company – under the leadership of Icelandic businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson – is bankrolling Dame Carol Kidu’s legal case to shutdown a film that documents the real-estate venture and the valiant efforts by our own justice fighters to save a historic national park from the developer’s knife.

Back in 2006 the Public Accounts Committee alleged the Paga Hill Estate was spearheaded by ‘foreign speculators’, who secured the title through ‘corrupt dealings’. A decade later it seems the controversy is still well and truly alive.

The Paga Hill Estate – A vision for a ‘progressive’ future 

Once designated a national park, the majestic surrounds of Paga Hill have been eyed by numerous real-estate developers over the years. However, it is the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) which succeeded in clearing the land of its residents and national park status.

This paved the way for a development that will evidently include luxury hotels, 800+ residential apartments, sporting facilities, marina precinct, and multi-use commercial precinct.

PHDC boasts, ‘with tourists and visitors staying at the Hilton Hotel, residents of the site, together with city visitors enjoying the waterfront retail, restaurants and marina complex, the area will be a buzzing melting pot, creating a new image for a progressive Papua New Guinea’ (Hilton Hotels strongly denies  any involvement in the project).

Even among the rubble produced by a brutal demolition exercise in 2012, the site’s development value is readily apparent.

Of course it is always important to ask, who in particular will benefit from the proposed real-estate venture? Rarely are such projects universally beneficial.

We at least know one core clientele. It was recently announced that the estate ‘will be the venue for the Leaders’ meetings at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Port Moresby’ slated to take place in 2018.

This is one of the most important multilateral forums in the Asia-Pacific region. If this announcement is true – unlike the partnership with Hilton Hotels – this gives the venture a special strategic importance for the summit’s principal sponsors the PNG and Australian governments.

Although the construction timeframe looks tight, PHDC has announced that the Shenzhen based, Zhongtai company, will collaborate in the development, with Chinese government backing.

The project also evidently has the support of the National Capital District Commission and PNG’s national government. According to PHDC’s website the ‘PNG Government will provide the support through relaxation of import duties and taxes’.

However, over its twenty year lifespan what is perhaps most striking about the Paga Hill Estate is the project’s ability to weather controversy. In 2007 the Public Accounts Committee accused PHDC of acquiring the land through ‘corrupt dealings’.

Five years later the project hit the headlines again after residents faced a brutal demolition exercise, executed by the Royal PNG Constabulary, allegedly at the behest of the company. This event became iconic when the opposition leader, Dame Carol Kidu, was frogmarched from the scene by police officers who had used live ammunition on residents. She argued PHDC was not an appropriate company to be entrusted with Paga Hill (Kidu later retracted her statement, and entered into a consultancy contract with PHDC).

In October 2012 matters got worse when it was reveal that PHDC’s CEO, Gudmundur Fridriksson, has managed or owned businesses censured in investigations conducted by the Public Accounts Committee, the Auditor General’s Office and the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance – seven in total.

The details were covered extensively by the Australian media, although sadly little of the controversy made its way into PNG’s muzzled press. That said, PNG citizens have created a vibrant social media alternative, which became a vital hub for circulating information on Paga Hill.

A month after this expose Fridriksson took leave from an Australian government funded think-tank where he was CEO, evidently to pursue business interests in PNG. His presence has now been wiped entirely from their website.

The wife of prominent Australian indigenous lawyer Noel Pearson – the latter is a key figure behind the think-tank – then disinvested of her shares in PHDC during January 2013.

Despite the turbulence, Papua New Guinea’s O’Neill Government has time and time again rallied behind the venture. Ministers have issued supportive press statements, the government real-estate firm NHEL  agreed to partner in the project on a 50/50 basis, and the development is now receiving generous tax breaks.

This is nothing new, from the project’s very inception in 1996 the executives pushing this luxury estate have proven adept at garnering support from some of PNG’s most powerful political forces.

A rejected planning application and Michael Nali MP

The first major challenge to getting the project off the ground was rezoning the land at Paga Hill and obtaining an Urban Development Lease. Back then it was the Paga Hill Land Holding Company (PHLHC) – a precursor to the Paga Hill Development Company – which led the way.

According to Investment Promotion Authority records – Papua New Guinea’s corporate registry – its shareholders included Rex Paki, Felix Leyagon, and the Western Australian company, Fidelity Management Pty Ltd. Its Directors were Rex Paki and Gudmundur Fridriksson.

Fridriksson used the same Perth address as Fidelity Management Pty Ltd in records he submitted to the Investment Promotion Authority for Asigau (PNG) Holdings Limited, a company he owned with his wife, Tau Fridriksson. Initially the landholding company’s Secretary was Tau Fridriksson, according to Investment Promotion Authority records she was replaced on 1 July 1998 by Rex Paki.

paga hill fidelity

Clearly a  key player during the project’s start-up period was the Shareholder-Director-Secretary, Rex Paki, who was also the principal of Port Moresby firm Ram Business Consultants. Ram would go on to collect its own share of official condemnation from the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, in addition to Public Accounts Committee and Auditor Generals Office investigations.

Despite having up and coming executives at the helm, PHLHC’s initial proposal for a luxury estate at Paga Hill was rejected by the Physical Planning Board in late 1996. The board noted, ‘proper procedures in relation to the processing of Planning applications were not followed’. This seemingly put an onion in the ointment, unless the application was approved, and the land rezoned, the Land Board could not lawfully issue an Urban Development Lease.

However, the company received a major boost in 1997, when its proposal obtained the backing of Michael Nali, the Minister for Civil Aviation, Culture and Tourism.  On 27 February 1997 he wrote to PHLHC stating: ‘It give [sic] me pleasure to confirm my full support to your proposed comprehensive mixed use development of Paga Hill … I am prepared to sponsor a submission to the National Executive Council [Cabinet] next month to have the project endorsed as a property of National Significance. It deserves the full support of Papua New Guinea’.

Paga Hill Nali letter

Subsequently, Michael Nali acquired a 9% stake in PHLHC’s successor vehicle the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) through Kwadi Inn Limited, which Nali is the sole owner of. However, it should be underlined this occurred in December 2011. By then Nali had lost office.

Yet the importance of Nali’s involvement in 2011 can’t be underestimated. A towering figure from Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands, Nali is in business with some of the nation’s most powerful individuals.

Take the example of NIU Finance Limited. According to Investment Promotion Authority records [PDF], Nali’s company Kwadi Inn obtained a significant stake in this company during 2009, joining a select cast of executives and investors.

According to its last Annual Return, the company’s Managing Director is Peter O’Neill, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister.  Peter O’Neill again appears as the largest shareholder in NIU, through his companies LBJ Investments Limited, and Paddy’s Hotel & Apartments Limited. Another notable shareholder in this enterprise is Piskulic Limited, a company wholly owned by Ken Fairweather, Member of Parliament for Sumkar.

There is no evidence on the public record to suggest either O’Neill or Fairweather have been involved in the Paga Hill Estate. Nevertheless, it is clear Nali circulates in powerful business circles.

And it goes further than this. It appears that Nali had direct business links with PHLHC’s Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon dating back to 1996-1997, the period when he agreed to sponsor the Paga Hill development as a project of national significance in Cabinet.

According to company records kept by the Investment Promotion Authority, on 11 November 1996, a company Waim No.54 Limited, was incorporated. Its two Directors were Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon. The company also had two equal shareholders, the Tourism Minister, Michael Nali and Mary Nali.

In addition to this, Waim No.54 Limited’s registered address was Ram Business Consultants, ADF Haus, Ground Floor, Musgrave Street, Port Moresby, National Capital District, Papua New Guinea. This is the same registered address employed by PHLHC.

If accurate, IPA records suggest Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon were Directors at a company owned by Michael and Mary Nali. Furthermore, Michael Nali’s company, Waim No.54, also shared PHLHC’s registered address.

During this same period, Michael Nali, in his Ministerial capacity agreed to sponsor PHLHC’s proposed Paga Hill property development in Cabinet as a project of national significance, a venture  in which Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon were shareholders, with executive involvement from Gudmundur Fridriksson and Paki.

Paga Hill network

Public Accounts Committee alleges ‘corrupt dealings’

Of course, it cannot be deduced from these facts that the above parties were involved in any wrongdoing. However, in light of a subsequent Public Accounts Committee inquiry, which alleged that the land at Paga Hill was secured by PHLHC through ‘corrupt dealings’, this new link raises questions.

Underpinning the Public Accounts Committee’s concern was the circumstances under which the lease was obtained. For instance the Urban Development Lease was awarded to PHLHC when the land was still zoned open space. Before she recanted, Dame Carol Kidu observed this was in violation of the Land Act 1996, section 67, which declares, ‘a State lease shall not be granted for a purpose that would be in contravention of zoning requirements under the Physical Planning Act 1989, any other law relating to physical planning, or any law relating to the use, construction or occupation of buildings or land’.

Subsequently, PHDC was awarded a full 99 year Business Lease, despite the fact the improvement covenant set out in the Urban Development Lease was not completed as required.

The Public Accounts Committee claimed  it was not surprised this covenant remained unactioned. It observed, ‘the Lessee cannot pay the Land Rental and has sought relief from that obligation, much less fund a development of the magnitude required’.

paga hill lease

However, apparently this is not the only occasion that a company connected with Ram Business Consultants is alleged to have been involved in illegal land dealings. Those familiar with the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund Chaired by Judge Tos Barnett,  may have had a touch of déjà vu when the name Waim was mentioned.

Ram Business Consultants, Waim No.92 and the NPF Commission of Inquiry

It was another holding company, Waim No.92 Pty Ltd, that was allegedly used to defraud the National Provident Fund – a transaction that saw one conspirator sentenced to six years imprisonment with hard labour. According to the Commission of Inquiry, controversial PNG businessman Jimmy Maladina was the ‘secret owner of Waim No.92 Pty Ltd the shares of which he initially owned through his wife Janet Karl, and an accountant Phillip Eludeme. Ms Karl’s share was later transferred to Phillip Mamando who resided at the Mr Maladina’s residence’.

The Commission of Inquiry alleges that ‘Mr Maladina was responsible for bribing Land Board chairman Ralph Guise and Lands Minister Viviso Seravo, to ensure Waim No.92 was granted the lease of the Waigani Land on very favourable terms’. It continues: ‘The records of the Land Board indicate it notified Waim No. 92 that it had been recommended as the successful applicant and on September 28, 1998, Waim No. 92 received notice that a corruptly reduced purchase price of K1,724,726.10 was payable before title would issue, with annual rent to be K17,000 (instead of the legally correct amounts of K2,866,000 and K143,000 respectively)’.

The Commission of Inquiry claims that Waim No.92 frontman Philip Eludeme acted as a key fixer, ‘prior to the Land Board hearing, Mr Eludeme had approached Minister Seravo seeking favourable consideration for Waim No. 92’s application and, at Mr Seravo’s request, had performed, free of charge, accountancy services for Minister Seravo valued at K100,000′.

According to the company’s annual returns for 1998, Waim No.92’s  registered office during this period was Ram Business Consultants, ADF House. While its two shareholders cited above, Philip Eludeme and Phillip Mamando, similarly list their registered office as Ram Business Consultants, ADF House.

During 1998 Maladina’s alleged fixer, Philip Eludeme, was a director of the company Sulawei Limited, along with PHLHC shareholder, Felix Leyagon. Sulawei Limited’s  registered address was again Ram Business Consultants, ADF House.

paga hill ram network

It would thus appear there were multiple links between two networks alleged to have been involved in similar style illicit land deals by the Public Accounts Committee and the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, respectively.

The Paki Fridriksson split and the Inquiry into the Office of the Public Curator  

The original development vehicle was of course the PHLHC. However, the Auditor General notes in early 2000 its two Directors apparently part ways [PDF], with Gudmundur Fridriksson evidently leaving Ram Business Consultants where he was alleged to have been employed (Fridriksson is PHDC’s current CEO).

Fridriksson was then involved in setting up a number of companies including Anvil Legal Services Limited, Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited, Anvil Commodities and Trading Limited, Anvil Marine Limited, Anvil Marketing Consultants Limited, and CCS Anvil Limited.

Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited and CCS Anvil Limited  have been censured in the course of  inquiries conducted by the Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee and the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance. Perhaps the most controversial of these companies is Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited,  which was awarded lucrative consultancy contracts with the Public Curator’s Office (shortly after Ram Business Consultants lost its contract with the same office).

This award wade made despite the fact the arrangement had been rejected by the Central Supply and Tender Board owing to no public tender – a procedure which is in violation of Papua New Guinea’s Public Finances (Management) Act1995.

The contract went ahead anyway, although it is alleged [PDF] by the Public Accounts Committee and Auditor General, that payments were made out of private estates held on trust by the Public Curator.

According to company records kept at the Investment Promotion Authority, Gomoga Jack Nouairi, the Acting Public Curator at the time which the Public Curator and Anvil began working together, had a 30% stake in Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited – the remaining 70% was owned by Gudmundur Fridriksson and his wife through the company Asigau (PNG) Holdings Limited.

Nouairi was also Director of Anvil Commodities and Trading Limited, in which Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited had a 50% stake, and was a 50% owner of Anvil Legal Services Limited, along with Gudmundur and Tau Fridriksson.

paga hill anvil network

Another company implicated in the inquiry into the Public Curator’s Office was Jac’o Business Consultants Limited, a concern owned by its principal Jack Naiyep. Despite being paid K1.5 million by the Public Curator’s Office, the Public Accounts Committee claims ‘there was no evidence that any formal procurement had ever taken place, nor was there any evidence of any formal contract’.

Naiyep and the Fridrikssons were business partners in a separate company they co-owned together, Anvil Business Services Limited.  Naiyep also had a stake in Mamaku Mai No.3 Limited. Before the latter company was deregistered it was connected to the family of former Prime Minister Bill Skate.  Also of significance is one of the company’s Directors, Paul Wagun.

It was a Paul Wagun who replaced Gomoga Jack Nouairi as Public Curator, and submitted evidence to the Public Accounts Committee and Taskforce Sweep contesting any wrongdoing by his office or Anvil (PNG) Project Services Limited. It cannot be confirmed this is the same Paul Wagun, however, given Jac’o Consultant’s role in the Public Curator’s Office, the overlap is concerning.

Sadly in a subsequent inquiry into this affair by Papua New Guinea’s anti-corruption agency, Investigation Taskforce Sweep, none of these crucial links between Fridriksson, Nouairi, Naiyep and Wagun were acknowledged in its case report, despite being freely obtainable from the Investment Promotion Authority company registry. When these flaws were noted by this author in a report published last year, Investigation Taskforce Sweep threatened to sue for defamation.

Another interesting company set up during this period under the Anvil stable, was Anvil Marine Limited. During its period of operation 2002-2005, the company was owned by Gudmundur and Tau Fridriksson, along with the father and son team, Tom Amaiu and Labi Alex Amaiu. Tom Amaiu is a former Member of Parliament, who was sentenced to five years prison for theft.

His son Labi Amaiu is the current Member of Parliament for Moresby North East, and has patronised PHDC, featuring prominently in the company’s promotional material. He can be seen in this video published by PHDC lauding Gudmundur Fridriksson. Amaiu states he would like to ‘congratulate and thank the CEO of Paga Hill development for a successful venture, this is what we call legacy, and I am proud to be part of that legacy’.

Fridriksson’s companies featured in a number of other inquiries during this contentious period, including the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance. Nevertheless, public condemnation from Papua New Guinea’s anti-corruption agencies has not significantly impacted on PHDC’s grip over the land at Paga Hill.

Paga Hill Development Company’s Southern Highlands Connection

Part of PHDC’s success appears to be linked to its influential stakeholders. It will be recalled that the Urban Development Lease was originally awarded to PHLHC, a company jointly owned by Rex Paki, Felix Leyagon and Fidelity Management Pty Ltd. When the lease was converted into a 99 year Business Lease in 2000, the owner was a new corporate vehicle, PHDC.

The Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry drew attention to this – the recipient of any converted lease, it argued, should have been the initial owner PHLHC. At the time, PHDC was owned by Fidelity Management Ltd Pty, a holding company which shared a registered address in Perth, Australia with Gudmundur Fridriksson. But unlike PHLHC, Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon were not on the share register.

In 2005 ownership of the company changed hands, as Fidelity Management Ltd Pty’s shares were transferred to another vehicle,  Anvil Holding Limited. At this time Anvil Holdings Limited was owned by George Hallit, along with Gudmundur and Tau Fridriksson. However, between 2008 and 2011 there were a series of further changes to PHDC’s ownership structure. By the end of it, the Fridrikssons’ apparently divested all their shares in the company. It was PHDC’s lawyer, Stanley Liria, who became the majority shareholder.

Originally from the Southern Highlands, Liria has published a number of legal texts.  The first was launched in 2005 by Southern Highlands political heavyweight Peter O’Neill who informed the Post-Courier he would recommend to his ‘parliament colleagues that they buy the newly published book’.

Liria is also commercially linked to a number of high profile Southern Highland politicians. For instance, Liria is Director of Southern Highlands Holding Limited, along with former Minister, Michael Nali, who is also a PHDC shareholder via Kwadi Inn Limited. The sole shareholder of the holding company is the Southern Highlands Provincial Government.

In addition, there is Sharp Hills Investment Limited, a company fully owned by Southern Highlands Governor William Tipi, who entered parliament as an MP for Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress party. According to Sharp Hill’s company records, its registered office is Liria Lawyers, a firm which Stanley Liria is the principal of. William Tipi was also formerly a shareholder in Southern Highlands Holding Limited, presumably as a trustee for the provincial government.

Alongside Liria at PHDC is Michael Nali, who through Kwadi Inn, has acquired a 9% stake in the company – although this was reduced to 2% during April 2016. As we have already observed, Nali is in business with Papua New Guinea’s most powerful political players including Prime Minister O’Neill.

Curiously absent though is Gudmundur Fridriksson. Despite being the principal visionary and driver behind the project he has seemingly divested from the company, while retaining an executive role as CEO.

Nevertheless, given the current political gravity in Papua New Guinea, having backers with strong Southern Highlands credentials cannot have harmed the company over the past five years, as it has navigated significant public resistance to its real-estate venture.

Cold comfort 

All this analysis is rather academic for former Paga Hill residents. Many had their homes, belongings, church and school destroyed through a number of demolition exercises between 2012-2014 (PHDC has only been directly linked to the first exercise in May 2012). The soul and life of the community is captured in a moving song they composed to commemorate the destruction:

As a result of the demolition exercise, the site is now being prepared for the luxury estate which Michael Nali lauded as Minister back in 1997. Twenty years on, as the development is promoted as a host site for APEC 2018, questions still linger over the land transactions that underpinned its inception and a number of  executives involved in stewarding this project.

Given the systematic efforts being devoted to censoring a documentary film covering this controversial ventureone senses these questions may encroach on very powerful interests indeed.

Yet whatever happens with Paga Hill, audiences may sense the bell tolls for thee. As a real-estate venture Paga Hill is not unique or exceptional, even if its displaced residents are a very special group indeed.

injunction paga hill

Around the world cities are transforming through a process of creative destruction, or what geographer David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession. They are becoming spaces moulded in the image of power, money, corruption and violence.

Indeed, the technical and often highly opaque character of urban governance is a breeding ground for abuse and inequality. It is a matter for wonks, bureaucrats and developers. It needs to be a space of popular, public participation.

The Opposition calls this to our attention. Of course, what we do to confront these dilemmas is the next urgent conversation to be had.

Justice prevails with injunction on The Opposition rejected by court – however new legal threat looms

July 15, 2016 1 comment

carol kidu paga hill

Source: Media Stockade

The Supreme Court of New South Wales today released the full judgment of 8th July 2016, unequivocally dismissing former Papua New Guinean politician Dame Carol Kidu’s claim for a permanent injunction preventing filmmaker Hollie Fifer, Media Stockade and Beacon Films from screening the documentary The Opposition.

On 20 March 2016 Carol Kidu sought to exclude her appearance and dialogue in the film by seeking an injunction restraining the distribution of any visual or audio recording of herself or any summary, representation or description that has the effect of revealing that content. Her legal case was supported by the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC).

The judgment reads:

When one views the extreme weaknesses of the Plaintiff’s (Dame Carol Kidu’s) claim that she did not know on and from 7 March 2012 that Ms Fifer was hoping to make a documentary for public exhibition rather than a student assignment (whatever it’s topic) the impression gained is that the Plaintiff is prepared, for her own benefit and that of PHDC to say anything to stop the footage taken of her by Ms Fifer being broadcast.

Download the full judgement (1.4MB) Kidu v Fifer

Director Hollie Fifer said, “we are relieved that justice has been served and that audiences around the world will be given the opportunity to see The Opposition and the important story of The Paga Hill Community.

“The Paga Hill Community is filing for damages in the PNG Courts for the loss of their homes and human rights violations. The Opposition is also their evidence base because most of their documents were destroyed during numerous demolition exercises that were carried out at Paga Hill,” said Ms. Fifer.

“This legal conflict has been an extremely stressful time and has disrupted release plans for The Opposition, nearly derailing the film and the important issues it speaks to,” said the film’s producer Rebecca Barry. “We are grateful that we now have the film back in its entirety.”

However, a new legal threat now looms in an attempt to further suppress the film. The court’s temporary injunction of footage featuring Carol Kidu, forced the filmmakers to screen a redacted version at Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto in May 2016. The redacted version of the film features narration over the censored footage by Australian actress Sarah Snook.

Just hours after the Hot Docs International Film Festival premiere of the film, independent production companies, Beacon Films and Media Stockade received further legal demands over the film.

Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), CEO and Director Gudmundur Fridriksson, PHDC director Stanley Liria and former PHDC director George Hallit are demanding all further screenings of the film are immediately ceased due to claims of defamatory imputations.

This is the second legal action taken against the film. The new legal demands were issued within hours of the film’s first screening.

“It would seem that there are powerful forces who don’t want this film to be seen, but we believe that audiences should have the right to make up their own minds. This story is too important not to be told,” said Ms Barry.

Film Synopsis:

The Opposition tells the story of a David-and-Goliath battle over land in Papua New Guinea. It follows Joe Moses, one of the leaders of a four-generation strong settlement in Port Moresby who must save the community before they are evicted off their land. Battling it out in the courts, Joe may find their homes replaced with an international five-star hotel and marina being developed by the Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited. The film highlights the massive gap between law and justice.

#TheOpposition #FreedomOfSpeech #LettheAudienceDecide

Visit the film website at: http://www.theoppositionfilm.com

Some key points from the Supreme Court of NSW Judgment:

The judge said that there were a number of factors which led him to have real concerns about the Plaintiff’s credibility including:

  • When faced with emails and SMS messages sent by Ms Fifer to the Plaintiff which contained material destructive of the Plaintiff’s contention that she thought Ms Fifer was only ever involved in a student assignment – the Plaintiff sought to assert that she had not properly read, or appreciated the content of those emails.
  • When conversations which were inconsistent with the Plaintiff’s case that she did not know that Ms Fifer was engaged in making a documentary and not simply making a student assignment were drawn to her attention – the Plaintiff asserted she said that she did not recall them.
  • The Plaintiff asserted in correspondence that she had never given written consent even though she had signed such a document (a release form) and had in July 2012 been reminded by Ms Fifer that she had.

Some of the findings of facts include:

  • That from 7 March 2012 the Plaintiff was fully aware that Ms Fifer would be taking footage for a documentary that Ms Fifer hoped she could broadcast to the public and that the Plaintiff was positive about that idea at least until July 2012 and as far as Ms Fifer knew until at least late 2013.
  • That by December 2013 the Plaintiff had in contemplation entering into a contract with PHDC using a company controlled by her and that in March 2014 her company entered into a contract with PHDC, by which it was to receive the equivalent of approximately $A178,000 (from which her company would need to make payments to subcontractors.)
  • That the Plaintiff invited Ms Fifer to film at Six Mile (the proposed resettlement site) and told her that PHDC would pay for that filming and that she offered to organize a UN Media award for Ms. Fifer.

Ms. Fifer, Media Stockade and Beacon Films were represented by Barrister Richard Potter, Junior Barrister Mark Maconachie and Solicitor Peter Bolam from legal firm Broadley Rees Hogan.

Carol Kidu loses court battle to suppress documentary about Paga Hill

July 15, 2016 Leave a comment

Source: Heath Aston, Sydney Morning Herald 

A documentary about the forced eviction of 3000 squatters from a shanty town in Port Moresby can be shown after a court threw out a legal challenge by one of the film’s central figures, Dame Carol Kidu, the Australia-born former opposition leader of Papua New Guinea.

The Opposition delves deep into the David v Goliath battle over a slice of Papua New Guinean paradise.

In a damning finding for the revered politician, Supreme Court Justice Nigel Rein has questioned Dame Carol’s credibility as a witness and dismissed her claim that she thought she was taking part in a school assignment and did not know that novice Australian filmmaker Hollie Fifer was producing a feature documentary to be shown all over the world.

The 77-minute documentary, The Opposition, revolves around the day in 2012 when an Australian-linked company sent in bulldozers, accompanied by armed PNG police, to raze the historic shanty town on Paga Hill.

carol kidu paga hill

Legal action … Dame Carol Kidu in a scene from the original version of The Opposition. Photo: Supplied

The development company is transforming the $300 million harbour front site into a hotel and marina precinct that could play host to the 2018 APEC leaders’ summit.

In 2012, Ms Fifer followed Dame Carol into Paga Hill, located in her electorate, as the politician pleaded unsuccessfully with police to stop people’s homes being bulldozed.

Footage shows her telling police: “This is not an eviction, it’s a demolition . . . why should some f—-g foreign company get our hill?”.

But by late 2013, the landscape had changed fundamentally.

Having retired from politics, Dame Carol, had been hired as a consultant to Paga Hill Development Company, owned by Australian-Icelandic businessman Gudmundur “Gummi” Fridriksson, a former chief executive of Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute, who lives in Cairns.

Dame Carol later presented the company with a letter in which she formally resiled from her criticism of the eviction, saying: “In hindsight, Paga Hill Development Company’s efforts to achieve harmonious resettlement have been genuine”.

“Please accept this letter as my formal notification that I no longer stand by my 2012-2013 statements, which were based on the limited information at the time,” she wrote.

It came out in the hearing that Dame Carol had been paid $178,000 for work with Paga Hill and the company had paid $250,000 to run her case against Ms Fifer.

The case to permanently block the documentary being shown was based on Dame Carol’s claim she had agreed to be filmed as part of what she thought was a film school assignment rather than a commercial documentary venture.

Evidence was produced during the trial of multiple emails and text messages in which Ms Fifer told Dame Carol about seeking ABC funding and the politician also signed a release form that Ms Fifer needed to obtain film funding.

In a stinging verdict, Justice Rein noted: “When one views the extreme weaknesses of [Dame Carol’s] claim that she did not know on and from March 7, 2012, that Ms Fifer was hoping to make a documentary for public exhibition rather than a student assignment (whatever its topic) the impression gained is that [Dame Carol] is prepared, for her own benefit and that of PHDC, to say anything to stop the footage taken of her by Ms Fifer being broadcast.”

“In my view, the plaintiff’s assertion that she was not informed by Ms Fifer of her wish and intention to make a documentary quite unconnected with the student assignment … is without any foundation whatsoever,” Justice Rein found.

He said there were “several indications” that Dame Carol was angry with the documentary quite removed from the issue of her consent.

Those included that “she feels that some people will, or do, think that she ‘sold out’ her former constituents at Paga Hill by joining forces with PHDC and receiving payments for her service”, he noted.

In a statement issued by producers Media Stockade and Beacon Films, Ms Fifer said she was “relieved that justice has been served and that audiences around the world will be given the opportunity to see The Opposition“.

“The Paga Hill community is filing for damages in the PNG courts for the loss of their homes and human rights violations. The Oppositionis also their evidence base because most of their documents were destroyed during numerous demolition exercises that were carried out,” she said.

The documentary, which received funding from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, will be shown at a number of international film festivals.

On Thursday, Dame Carol said she was disappointed with the verdict and still believed the documentary only told “part of a much bigger story” and that the majority of settlers had agreed to move and accept a new block of land elsewhere.

“I was disappointed but I accept the decision of His Honour,” she said.

Read the full judgement: Kidu v Fifer (pdf file 1.4MB)

Dame Kidu and Gummi Fridriksson lose legal bid to silence Paga Hill story

July 12, 2016 2 comments

OPP_Court_Media_Statement_1607081 header

In 2012 Dame Carol Kidu became the public face for the struggle to save Paga Hill from real-estate developer, PHDC, a company which is led by Icelandic-Australian businessmen Gummi Fridriksson.

Kidu’s 2012 stance was not surprising, Fridriksson had run businesses censured in a Commission of Inquiry, four Public Accounts Committee inquiries, and two Auditor General investigations. Quite a record by any stretch! Kidu damned the land deal at Paga Hill for being mired in alleged corruption and violence.

Kidu’s fully owned company CK Consultancy Limited was subsequently offered a lucrative consultancy deal by PHDC. To the shock of many, Kidu took the deal, and became the public face for Gudmundur Fridriksson and PHDC’s luxury real-estate venture at Paga Hill.

All of the twists and turns of the struggle to save Paga Hill were captured by documentary filmmaker Hollie Fifer. This year Dame Kidu, with funding from PHDC, attempted to silence the film [view the trailer below], through a legal action in the New South Wales Supreme Court. 

Last Friday, the Supreme Court definitively rejected Dame Kidu’s argument that Fifer had used deception and acted unconscionably. The injunction against the film has been lifted, the world will now hear about an epic Papua New Guinea struggle against foreign businessmen and the political elite!

OPP_Court_Media_Statement_1607081

PNG corruption fighter the toast of major film festival

May 7, 2016 Leave a comment

paga hill

The Opposition has premiered at the prestigious Hot Docs festival in Canada. It tells the story of a fearless PNG anti-corruption fighter Joe Moses, and the inspiring residents of Paga Hill.

They squared up to the Paga Hill Development Company, a company whose CEO, Gudmundur Fridriksson, has featured in no less than seven anti-corruption inquiries.

The documentary premiered despite efforts by Dame Carol Kidu to silence the film in the Australian courts, an action that was bankrolled by the Paga Hill Development company, who also contracted Kidu’s consultancy firm CK Consultancy Limited.

Reviewers are giving the film 5 stars!! The rolling coverage can be read here:

http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/this-filmmaker-was-forced-to-cast-an-actress-in-her-documentary-after-legal-ruling

https://moviemovesme.com/2016/05/05/hot-docs-2016-review-the-opposition-2016/

http://thetfs.ca/2016/05/06/hot-docs-2016-qa-the-opposition-director-hollie-fifer/

http://thetfs.ca/2016/05/05/hot-docs-2016-review-the-opposition/

five star

Film on PNG corruption fighters faces legal hurdle

April 20, 2016 1 comment

The Opposition is the first feature-length documentary to look into the murky world of real-estate developers, their political patrons, and PNG’s unsung heroes fighting against them.

It focuses on the famous case of Paga Hill, which the public accounts watchdog claims was acquired by ‘foreign speculators’ through ‘corrupt dealings’. Allegedly PM O’Neill’s business partner and former stablemate, Michael Nali, championed the project in government before becoming a shareholder.

The company behind the proposed luxury estate at Paga Hill, PHDC, is managed by its Icelandic CEO, Gudmundur Fridriksson, whose PNG business interests have featured in numerous anti-corruption inquiries.

However, in a dramatic twist, the film may never be publicly screened, that is, if political matriarch Carol Kidu gets her way. Back in 2012 Dame Kidu came out fighting against PHDC. In vocal public statements she accused them of fraud and corruption.

PHDC then offered her a handsome consultancy deal, through her firm CK Consultancy Limited. Dame Kidu took the contract. All criticisms of the developer stopped, and she has become the public face of PHDC’s Paga Hill development, giving it a thin gloss of corporate respectability. She strongly denies being bought off.

While PHDC are busily courting Chinese partners – with the blessing of NCDC Governor Powes Parkop – it is alleged Dame Kidu is petitioning the Australian courts to stop PNG from ever seeing this documentary film. Evidence submitted to the Australian courts indicate PHDC are backing Dame Kidu’s legal case.

A decision on the case is expected this week.

The fight to stop ‘The Opposition’

April 15, 2016 Leave a comment

paga hill demolition

Pauline Vetuna, Stella Magazine

New documentary ‘The Opposition’ purports to tell the story of PAGA HILL settlement residents’ struggle against the demolition of their homes, to pave way for the multi-million dollar ‘Paga Hill Estate’ commercial development in PNG. Dame Carol Kidu has taken legal action to try to stop the film’s release. Today we’re looking at how this controversy highlights both free speech concerns and the responsibility of media makers telling Pacific stories to convey the complexities of our region.

“On 12 May 2012, one hundred police officers descended on the prominent Port Moresby landmark, Paga Hill. Armed with assault rifles, machetes and sticks, they had come to demolish one of the city’s oldest settlements” said the UK-based International State Crime Initiative. That year, the Initiative’s PNG coordinator, Dr. Kristian Lasslett, told Pacific Beat that the act contravened the UN principles on development-based forced eviction.

It was partly captured on film in the new documentary ‘The Opposition’ [VIEW TRAILER HERE].

This forced eviction of some 3000 men, women and children from Paga Hill was carried out to allow the development of ‘Paga Hill Estate’ – a hotel and marina precinct being built by the PNG-registered Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC). In 2012 it was controversially awarded the commercial lease for this coveted 13.7 hectare piece of land in central Port Moresby.

The International State Crime Initiative published THIS extensive report that questioned the legitimacy of the PHDC’s land deal, chronicling the “chequered history” of Paga Hill Estate and the 12 May demolition of the Paga Hill Settlement. It also questioned PHDC’s ability to follow through on a promise to resettle the Paga Hill settler community at the Six Mile settlement.

In response to all of the criticism, PHDC’s Secretary Gudmundur Fridriksson vehemently defended the company’s 2 million dollar resettlement efforts, and what it regarded as the necessity of its forced evictions, to The Australian newspaper:

“I don’t think anybody wanted to see it done but if that is what it took to get access to the land then that is what we have to do. There are just squatters and settlers and criminals hanging out there. They are illegal dwellings on somebody else’s land.

Sure there are a handful of people here who have been here from the 1960s, but there would not be more than three houses there that qualify as a house.”

Act Now PNG reported at the time that the Public Accounts Committee had found the land acquisition by the developer was “completely corrupt and fraudulent” prior to the forced eviction being carried out. Then Member for Moresby South electorate, Dame Carol Kidu, spoke out against the proposed development on several grounds – including “the multiplicities of failures and illegalities on the part of the Lands Department and other government bodies concerning that land portion”.

Having witnessed the forced eviction (which she called a demolition, not an eviction), she also expressed concerns about violations of the human rights of settlement residents:

“…bulldozing a community does not solve any problems and has never worked anywhere in the world – it only complicates things and creates a huge human rights issue – the Governor and I and the next MPs are faced with hundreds of displaced families (refugees in their own country) who are now sheltering in tents with candles for lights because their power has been disconnected.

“There are babies, elderly, sick people as well as the fit and some very angry young men who were kicked viciously by police and for many families everything was destroyed – they actually have no food so the others are trying to help them. I watched women being dragged from their homes screaming while bulldozers were ordered to move in until I eventually got the police to stop the demolition because the lawyers were on their way with a Stay Order on humanitarian grounds.”

But Dame Carol Kidu’s views regarding the Paga Hill Estate developer later changed, after PNG’s National Court and Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the development deal and recognised the title. Once this happened, Dame Kidu says she decided to work with the developer to ensure people were appropriately resettled – entering into a 6-month contract with them to assist the resettlement of cooperative Paga Hill evictees. paga hill the opposition

KIDU’S POSITION: FOR HUMANS RIGHTS, & THE DEVELOPMENT

Dame Carol Kidu is now taking legal action to try to stop the release of ‘The Opposition’, a new documentary which purports to tell the story of Paga Hill residents’ struggle against the Paga Hill Estate development from their perspective – with Dame Kidu portrayed as an “unlikely hero” of sorts. The reason for this, Dame Kidu told The Australian newspaper, is that in her view, the filmmakers misrepresent her role in the Paga Hill land dispute – and the dispute itself.

She accuses the filmmakers of securing her involvement in their documentary (and Australian government funding for it) under false pretences. Dame Kidu also claims that a crucial scene – when she, then PNG Opposition Leader, stepped in front of bulldozers paid to demolish settlement abodes on 12 May 2012 – is taken out of context. The filmmakers have rebutted all allegations in the media. 

They claim they have worked with Dame Kidu openly throughout the filmmaking process, that she signed a release form, and continued to cooperate with the filmmakers even after the narrative of the documentary shifted to focus on the Paga Hill land deal (Kidu says her cooperation was actually a culturally specific approach that has not served her well here). Dame Kidu was given a rough cut and a fine cut of the film to view, and the filmmaker’s say she gave them feedback about inaccuracies; they made amendments accordingly.

The film’s producer told the ABC they were shocked by the lawsuit, as in their minds they were in a phase of negotiation about what the title card stating Dame Kidu’s current position should be. The producer said that the film is very clear about the fact that Dame Kidu is not anti-progress or anti-development; rather, Dame Kidu always took a stance strongly in favour of the human rights of settlers.

In fact, it has always been clear that this is Dame Carol Kidu’s position. In 2012, Dame Kidu asserted that although she was not opposed to the development of Paga Hill per se, she had serious misgivings about the way the developer was going about it, in addition to the legality of the land deal. Here are some quotes from Kidu’s extensive and passionate press release concerning the issue:

“Will the Minister ensure that we do not allow this valuable land asset to leave the custodianship of Papua New Guineans for the commercial benefit of a few?”

“Will the PM instruct the Attorney General to ensure that the human rights of our people are protected? Yesterday the lawyer, director, and shareholder for the company, Stanley Liria, went to the Paga settlement with a security company and dogs. Dogs !! for law abiding women and children!!”

It is important to reiterate that Dame Kidu said at the time that she would support an alternate development model for Paga Hill that would benefit “the people of PNG and various State entities”, and that she had always said that the settlement at the base of Paga Hill would eventually have to go. It should also be noted that the filmmakers say they emphasised this in the film, and in no way try to insinuate Kidu was against the development. paga hill ariel

TELLING THE WHOLE STORY: DAME CAROL KIDU, PHDC & RESETTLEMENT

In 2013 Dame Kidu entered into a contract with PHDC facilitated through her newly established company, C K Consultancy Limited, after she was personally approached by Fridriksson and offered a consultancy deal. She told PNG Attitude blog last year that the six-month contract was a way for her to assist the families from the settlements who chose to take a deal to be relocated to Six Mile (now called Tagua community):

“Because the issue of relocation is a critical aspect of the urbanisation policy that has never been addressed, it interested me to actually work with the practicalities on the ground.”

“In all of it, my interest has been in the people, a few of whom have been extremely difficult to work with”.

She has said that it was the first time that a company tried to do a proper relocation exercise, and is proud to have been involved with it.

Dame Kidu worked with PHDC after the PNG Supreme Court upheld the previous decision of the National Court that recognised the title held by PHDC and gave the company full access to its 13.7 hectare Paga Hill commercial lease – and then ceased contact with Dr. Kristian Lasslett of International State Crime Initiative, whose research she had reportedly assisted on a few occasions.

Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Dame Kidu “formally clarified” her 2012/2013 criticisms of PHDC, stating in a letter to Fridriksson:

“After working closely with the company during the relocation exercise, I realise now with the benefit of hindsight, that Paga Hill Development Company’s efforts to achieve harmonious resettlement have been genuine.

“Please accept this letter as my formal notification that I no longer stand by my 2012-2013 statements which were based on the limited information at the time.”

Dame Kidu says she is aware of how it looks, but maintains her opposition to the film has nothing to do with her former business relationship with PHDC, and everything to do with inaccuracies within the film:

“I know people will accuse me of being bought off. I’m not [PHDC’s] stooge, it’s just that this film is unbalanced.”

FREEDOM OF SPEECH CONCERNS

Last week, Dame Carol Kidu spoke to Radio National’s Drive program about her lawsuit against the makers of ‘The Opposition’ and attempt to suppress the film, telling them that she is “tired of people coming into PNG and not telling the full story”. The host pressed her about how her attempt to block the film’s release could be construed as an attempt to curtail freedom of speech.

When asked why it wouldn’t be better to just let people see the film and make up their own minds, Dame Kidu argued that she opposes that, because people will watch the film and “believe this version of the narrative”. Given that the principle of freedom of speech holds that even those you oppose have the freedom to tell their version of the narrative, this was somewhat troubling.

Audiences also have no way of ascertaining whether or not Dame Kidu’s accusations regarding factual omissions are true unless they are given an opportunity to see the film.  In the interim, Dame Kidu has had several radio and media platforms to air her disgust at the documentary, whilst its makers defend it as a balanced, fact-checked piece of journalistic filmmaking that accurately tells the story of the people resisting the Paga Hill Estate development. 

HUMAN RIGHTS OF SETTLERS?

In all of the recent reporting on Dame Kidu’s stoush with the filmmakers of ‘The Opposition’, little has been reported about the fate, current condition and welfare of former Paga Hill settlement residents themselves – the people captured in the trailer for the documentary, and whose distress and mistreatment were described by Kidu in her 2012 eyewitness statements.

Meanwhile Joe Moses, the film’s main protagonist and Paga Hill resistance leader, is reportedly in hiding. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the reason for this depends on which side of the dispute you talk to: anti-development activists say he is fearful of his life due to threats by corrupt PNG police; whilst critics say he is hiding from fellow settlers who pooled their money to fund the Paga Hill legal case Joe Moses co-ordinated.

Speaking to Radio National last week, Dame Carol Kidu insisted that members of Joe Moses’ group had threatened Paga Hill settlers who wanted to take a deal with PHDC and be compensated/resettled; that she herself was almost run over deliberately by a young man angry that she was speaking to young women settlers who actually wanted to take a resettlement deal and move out. Dame Kidu stated those left homeless were those who resisted to the very end. 

Their fate remains unclear.

Dame Carol Kidu has hired Australian law firm Kennedys to fight against ‘The Opposition’ being shown in any forum.