Former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry says Fiji Airways has deliberately misled the people of Fiji on the real facts about the $3 million Charter flight to Israel, and taxpayers have every right to ask questions pertaining to this.
While responding to Tourism Minister Viliame Gavoka’s statement that the airline should be left alone to run its operations when a member of the Opposition raised questions, Chaudhry said, “The Government of Fiji is the majority shareholder in Fiji Airways and Mr Gavoka could hardly be unaware of the fact that the taxpayer had bailed the airline out to the tune of $455m in 2020 when it was in deep trouble following the Covid crisis.”
He said the airline has been less than honest with the Fiji taxpayer in relation to the charter flight to Israel.
On 16 October 2023, in response to concerns raised by Fiji Labour Party, the airline issued a statement to say that it had “an established business relationship with the charterer of the Israel flight who has a history of operating successful international charters and making timely payments for previous charter flights.
It denied any political pressure exerted on the airline to undertake the charter.
“Documents made available to FLP; show that this so-called ‘established business relationship’ with a charterer with a history of making timely payments’, has defaulted dismally on its repayment obligations on the $3 million charter,” said Chaudhry.
He claims a total of $2.5 million is still owing to the airline on the Israel charter flight, four months later and only $500,000 of the $ 3 million has been paid.
“Under the charter agreement, the company Wabs Pacific trading as Pacific Voyager, had to make a non-refundable deposit of $100,000 by 11 September 2023.”
“This was paid. Second payment of $1.45m was due on 18 September 2023 and the last $1.45m was due on 25 September 2023.”
“The flight was scheduled to take off on 28 September 2023. When the charterer defaulted on the payments, it entered into a Deed of Forbearance and Guarantee agreement with Fiji Airways to enable the charter to proceed as scheduled.”
“This is where political pressure was put on the airline to accept a worthless guarantee deed.”
“Under this agreement, the first two payments of $400 was to be made before 26 September 2023. This has been met.”
“The balance of the payments were due as follows and remain outstanding: $700,000 on 21 December 2023; $900,000 on 26 February 2024 and another $900,000 on 30 May 2024.”
“The shocking part of the deal, and the Deed, is that Michael Mausio as the sole owner of Wabs Pacific, the company that is in default of the payment, also appears as two of the guarantors in the Deed – first in his personal capacity and secondly as owner of Kane Holding Pte Ltd.”
“Kane Holding is a $100 paper company that was registered on 17 August 2022 and we are reliably informed that it has now written to the Company’s Registrar asking for the company to be deregistered.”
“The other two guarantors are the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (CEJ-Fiji) and the Faith Harvest Church.”
He said the Fiji Labour Party, Opposition MP Premila Kumar and the Fiji taxpayer have the indisputable right to question Fiji Airways on why it ran a charter flight without full payment being met.
“And secondly, how it intends to recover the amount owed from a company that is seeking deregistration.Is this not a fraud on the Fiji taxpayer, Mr Gavoka?
Meanwhile, a complaint on the matter has been made by a concerned citizen to the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption which has confirmed it is under investigation.