Aipia and Hagberg acquitted - Solomon Star News

Aipia and Hagberg acquitted

15 November 2017
Dr Reginald Aipia and his American business consultant Eric W. Hagberg and their supporters outside of the Central Magistrates Court following their acquittal on Tuesday.

Medical practitioner and entrepreneur Dr Reginald Aipia and his American business consultant Eric W. Hagberg on Tuesday walked out of the Honiara Magistrates Court, free men.

This was after Principal Magistrate Augustine Aulanga acquitted them both of the charge of engaging in commercial aquaculture without a valid licence.

Outside of court, Aipia said, they were happy to be finally freed.

Mr Aipia added that they will be going back to the trial and error Beche-de-mer farms (pilot project)  in Lord Howe Islands but will be liaising with the Ministry of Fisheries first.

He said if the officers at the Ministry of Fisheries want to go with him to the farm, which is fine with him, so they can see for themselves the progress of the pilot project.

Public Prosecutor Andrew Kelesi yesterday applied to have the charge against both accused to be withdrawn under section 190 (2) (b) (i) of the Criminal Procedure Code which provides for an acquittal.

This followed the representations made by the defence counsels regarding the charges to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Kelesi said both accused were charged with engaging in commercial aquaculture without a valid license Contrary to Section 43 (1) (h) read with section 56 (1) and (4) of the Fisheries Management Act 2015 and Section 30 (a-d) of the Fisheries (Beche-der-mer) (Amendment) Regulation 2014.

He added that whilst the Fisheries Management Act 2015 remain in force, the Fisheries Management Regulation 2017 which gazetted in January this repealed the 2014 Regulation which the prosecution relied upon to charge both accused as well.

Another reason for considering the acquittal is “strict liability” under section 125 and 126 of the Fisheries Management Act 2015, which Mr Kelesi said both accused have the documents (letters) from the Chief Fisheries Officer Aquaculture, dated 23 September 2014 and Supervising Minister for the Ministry of Fisheries dated 27 June 2014 and another from Chief Fisheries Officer dated 1st June 2017 giving approval for the trial and error pilot project.

 Just before prosecution made the application for the withdrawal of the charges, Nuatali Tongarutu of ANT Legal Service who represents Hagberg made an application to withdraw her legal representation which was granted by Mr Aulanga.

She told the court the reason for doing so was because Hagberg was not honest with her.

She was to apply for a bail variation for her client in the event prosecution decided to pursue this matter.

But she told the court her client was not honest with her as he breached his bail condition to travel to Western Province without informing her.

She added that Hagberg went in a taxi to her home last night and forced her to go with him to her office to get his documents.

Whilst on the way, Ms Nuatali said they argued in the taxi and having seen a police vehicle passing by, waved them over.

She then told the police officers about Hagberg breaching his bail condition.

Hagberg was taken to the Central Police Watch house where he stayed overnight there until yesterday morning when he was taken to the court.

Ronald Dive of Ron Law who now represented Hagberg told the court yesterday he was not given permission to see his client last night at the Central Watch house at Central Police Station.

“I arrived at 11.30pm at the Central Police Station,

“I was not given permission by the police at the Central Police Station to see the accused.”

Mr Dive said this is a total breach of his accused’s rights to see a lawyer.

He however made no objection to the application for the withdrawal of the charge against Hagberg.

He also made an application for the court to release his client’s passport, of which, Mr Aulanga granted.

Another application made not to forfeit his client’s cash bail was not successful.

Mr Aulanga ordered that Hagberg’s cash bail of $ 5,000 to be forfeited to the state for breaching one of his bail conditions.

Aipia’s $5,000 cash bail which he paid to the Honiara Magistrates Court was refunded to him.

Bitibule Kaehuna of Rano & Company represents him.

The duo were arrested and charged after a joint task force comprising of police and fisheries officers went to Ontong Java on 10 September 2017 and discovered farms of beche-de-mer.

They accused Aipia and Hagberg of constructing beche-de-mer farms in the month of July 2017 without having a valid license.

Dr Apia is the founder and president of the Ontong Java Development Company while Hagberg from the United States of America, works a consultant for the company.

Hagberg started working during the initial stages of the construction of the farms up till its completion.

He was allegedly responsible for the setting up of the farms, reproducing beche-de-mer and managing the farms.

Lawyers representing both accused have earlier submitted to the court that their clients were not engaged in commercial farming but a trial and error Beche-de-mer farm (pilot project) similar to the one in Marau, Guadalcanal.

In light of the licence, counsels have submitted that approval or authorisation for the Beche-de-mer pilot projects were given to their clients from the Ministry of Fisheries.