THREE of the Chinese businessmen who were granted by the government license to export the lucrative bechedemer products were charged with four counts of criminal offenses by the Magistrate Court, Saturday afternoon.
The Chinese men and their business houses are; Chen Zhen Company Limited located at Ranadi, Noelyn Bao and Xu Qiang of Oceanic International Limited at Ngossi Ridge and Frank Sheng Song of the Solomon FVC New Process Import and Export Limited at Bahai road up St Nicholas.
The four charges are related to illegal harvesting of the sea cucumber species at Ontong Java atoll when the ban was still effective this year.
Chief Magistrate Emma Garo after hearing the prosecution and defence counsels concluded with the following ruling;
- The defendants are to surrender their passports forthwith to the court;
- The defendants should each pay cash bail of $10,000 to the court today. However the prosecution is at liberty to apply for a review of this condition with a view to increasing the cash bail at the next hearing date;
- The defendants are not to interfere with the following witnesses for trial of this matter. The said witnesses at the moment are Dr Reginald Aipia, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Dr Christain Ramofafia, Fisheries Director Edward Honiwala, Under Permanent Secretary (Technical) Ferral Lasi Ramofafia, and Chief licensing officer Selina Lipa.
- Each defendant is not to leave Honiara without permission of the court;
- Each defendant is to report to the Central Police station every Friday between the hours of 8:00 am-5:00 pm;
The court adjourned the case to 12th December 9:00 am.
The defendants are being represented by Sol-Law while Public Prosecutor Bradley Dalipanda appears for the Crown.
There were four bechedemer license holders which government had issued them with license and the forth is RK Marine Products Limited registered under the name Pan Xiaobo.
But Mr Xiaobo does not appear in court because there are no evidences to lay a charge against his trading on the marine product.
Sources said RK Marine Products Limited engaged in buying of bechedemer only after the government lift the ban on the month of September.
According to related reports the three Chinese business houses and bechedemer licensees will not export the marine products based on orders from Inland Revenue Department (IRD) due to unpaid tax fees to the government.
The Chinese business houses are said to have big sum of tax arrears since past years.
Earlier on under permanent Secretary Ferral Lasi defended the ministry’s awarding of four bêche-de-mer export licences to Chinese businessmen.
Mr Lasi said the decision was based on a set of hard-line criteria.
“We have four solid criteria which the four successful applicants met,” he explained.
“The criteria also emphasises on valid licence and the economic output,” he told this paper in an exclusive interview.
Mr Lasi said locals who applied for export licences failed to meet the international transaction, which is one of the strong requirements.
“The Chinese bêche-de-mer buyers have valid marine export licences and tax numbers so the money gained from the sales will be remitted to the country,” Mr Lasi said.
This issue again boils down to Fisheries licensing committee, it was highlighted.
“They must be answerable to how and why they award the license to this Chinese business houses.”