By JEFF NEEMS and MICHAEL FIELD - Waikato Times
A former Hamilton couple say they are under siege in their Fijian resort as lawyers working for their bank try to force them out.
Jim and Heather Sherlock own the Lagoon Resort at Pacific Harbour, west of Suva, but have been told they can leave with only a few of their possessions as lawyers for the Fiji Development Bank look to take control of the property.
The attempt to force out the Sherlocks, who have been involved in the tourism sector in Fiji for more than 20 years, comes as the military regime of Voreqe Bainimarama begins issuing decrees – which cannot be challenged in court – effectively seizing foreign private property.
Last month the regime seized the unfinished Momi Bay resort from PricewaterhouseCoopers, who were acting as receivers for failed finance company Bridgecorp.
Another New Zealand family, who do not wish to be named, are under pressure over their farm after a military linked ratu or village chief demanded they leave.
Fiji's media remains under heavy censorship and coverage of the land seizures has been limited to brief government statements.
Mr Sherlock told the Waikato Times resort guests had been kicked out in May, and he and his wife feared if they left together, they would be unable to return. Armed guards patrol outside the resort, which the Sherlocks have been keen to convert into a timeshare from a conventional resort.
The couple have invested substantially in the resort, upgrading it and keeping up good occupancy rates. Mr Sherlock said they owed about $2.5 million on the resort, valued at between $3.5 million and $4 million, but had been paying off that debt under an arrangement with the Fiji Development Bank.
Mr Sherlock said he believed bank directors did not understand or want the timeshare concept, but his concern was more with the activities of lawyers R Patel and Co. He claimed the lawyers were trying to force the couple out and take over Lagoon Resort.
Attempts to broker a deal with the bank and its lawyers had been unsuccessful, and Mr Sherlock claimed there had been no appropriate legal notice to vacate the resort.
"It's quite petty how they've done it – they came in here illegally to start with, and closed the business down. The lawyers have been totally unreasonable: I still own the property, and they've advertised it for sale even though I am still in possession. They've let me sit here for two months, under siege." If the Sherlocks left the property, they stood to lose about $2 million and would be unable to take many possessions: "We were told we could take a suitcase each. We're running out of options."