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  • Writer's pictureB.M. Allsopp

The Pacific tsunami of organised crime

Last month I claimed the Fiji's current prime minister Mr Sitiveni Rabuka and his predecessor, Mr Voreque Bainimarama, were bull elephants that couldn't be ignored (read more here and here). But even a charging bull elephant is helpless against a tsunami rolling in from the ocean, wrecking island foreshores. That tsunami is the wave of organised crime smashing so much in Fiji and other south Pacific island nations.


A severed head inside a shark's belly introduced Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Horseman to international organised crime in Death Beyond the Limit: Fiji Islands Mysteries 3. Shocked by how organised crime gangs had infiltrated international fishing, at the end of his case he dreaded what was to come in Fiji. Horseman remembered paramount chief Ratu Cakobau predicted in 1874, "Fiji will become like a piece of driftwood in the sea, to be picked up by the first passer-by." Ratu Cakobau believed ceding Fiji to Queen Victoria could prevent this outcome, backed by the might of the British navy. Today, the Fiji navy can deploy just a few patrol boats, all gifts of Australia. The newest, RFNS Puamau, was handed over in March.


RFNS Puamau in WA shipyard
RFNS Puamau in Austal shipyard, Western Australia Source: Calistemon

Fiji and illicit drugs: 20 years ago

When I lived in Fiji, rumour held that cannabis was cultivated on a small scale in clearings hidden in inland forests on the larger islands, particularly Viti Levu. Every now and then, a police raid would happen and shots of heaps of cannabis harvested by the police would appear in the media. Towards the end of my time there, police raided a Suva building, owned by a Chinese restaurant proprietor, housing a large-scale methamphetamine (meth) factory. The public was shocked and appalled by the owner's nonchalance and cynical protestations of innocence through appeal after appeal, like she knew she was untouchable.


Fiji now: taken over by criminals?

In the twenty years since, the illicit drug scene has transformed so that Fiji has become a hub for the transit, manufacture and supply of drugs to the Australian and New Zealand markets. In 2022 alone, the Australian Federal Police seized more than 13 tonnes of meth from small boats entering Australia from Fiji and other Pacific islands. Not only that, but a side-hustle sells cocaine and meth to a skyrocketing local market, wreaking havoc in Fiji's towns. In 2009, there were two meth-related arrests in Fiji; now, there are five such arrests each day. Many Fijians prefer not to to talk about drugs, perhaps because they feel helpless to change anything. Despite the country's laws, Fiji lacks the capacity to police international drug syndicates, although there are small victories. For example, the New Zealand donation of sniffer dogs has led to a 16-fold increase in drug seizures and arrests at Fiji's airports.


Recently, the drug situation in Fiji, together with advice to Fiji by Australian Government security services, was the subject of an investigative report by Channel 9's TV program, Sixty Minutes. If you have time, watch the 20-minute video in full. Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzW1APWxBjs




Some allege that during 16 years in power, the Bainimarama government ignored the rapid invasion by criminal drug cartels originating in Asia and Central/South America. I have no evidence about this, but several events since Rabuka formed his new government may be relevant.


  1. Aiyaz Umarji

Umarji, owner of a Fiji pharmacy chain, was sentenced to four years prison in New Zealand (NZ) in August for illegally importing millions of dollars worth of pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical of methamphetamine. Identified by the Fiji Police Narcotics Squad in 2017 as a top tier importer, a court dismissed police charges of firearms offences against Umarji in 2019. Umarji continued to be regarded as a pillar of the community who sat on the board of the Fiji Football Association and was a major donor to Bainimarama's Fiji first Party. However, New Zealand Police tracked down Umarji's NZ partner and applied to extradite him from Fiji. By the time the extradition order was granted, Umarji had escaped to hiding in India. However, last year he unexpectedly surrendered to NZ authorities and was subsequently convicted and imprisoned. While Umarji's pharmaceutical businesses still run in Fiji and Vanuatu, the Fiji Police continue their investigation. If Umarji is successfully prosecuted in Fiji, we may have cause to hope.


2. Chinese police sent home

On forming government, PM Rabuka foreshadowed a review of the controversial policing agreement with PRC referred to in my April post here. Unexpectedly, PM Rabuka announced in late March that the cooperation agreement would remain for now. However, Rabuka stated that he could see no need for PRC police officers to be embedded in the Fiji Police Force and had already ordered their repatriation. While clearly performing a political balancing act, Rabuka has made a significant retreat from closer relations with PRC.


3. The exposure of Zhao Fugang on TV

In the opinion of Australian intelligence source on the Sixty Minutes program above, Australian Government identification of Zhao Fugang as PRC's prime agent of influence in the South Pacific will be enough to make him useless in future. While that may be true, I fear there will be no shortage of PRC nationals ready to take over running organised crime in Fiji and other island nations.


4. Seizure of methamphetamine at Nadi

In late January, Fiji Police seized 4.8 tonnes of meth at a Nadi warehouse, estimated to be worth $2 billion - Fiji's biggest ever drug bust. Subsequently, 13 people, including one man with a chiefly title of Ratu and two foreign nationals, were charged with importing or possessing illicit drugs. A police officer observed scooping up some spilled crystals was also charged. It remains a concern that al charged were granted bail.


4.8 tonnes of meth seized at Nadi in warehouse
4.8 tonnes of meth seized at Nadi. Source: Fiji Police

Fiji Police say that investigations continue with the help of the Australian Federal Police and the Pacific Transnational Crime and Coordination Centre, and they expect to make more arrests. Fiji was being used as a transit point for this huge shipment and the methamphetamine was destined for a foreign market. Police confirm that the drugs arrived in Fiji in late December, were transferred to a barge beyond Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and delivered to the Nadi warehouse. That's the extent of information released so far. Surely, here is a case that can test the government's resolve to fight the take-over of these jewels of islands by crime syndicates. As the trials unfold, I'll update you where I can.


If you have friends interested in Fiji or Pacific islands in general, I encourage you to share this post.

I look forward to hearing from you!


Bernadette


B.M. Allsopp



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1 Comment


Annemarie King
Annemarie King
May 18

This was all very interesting. There is a lot that goes on that the majority of us are simply not aware of. Media and politicians really pick and choose what to release to the local population. Thank you for sharing this.

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