By ANDREW FANASIA
A WELL-KNOWN holiday resort in Western Province is facing closure after landowners took legal action to evict its foreign owner over alleged land-lease breaches.
Sanbis Resort is located on Babanga island, a seven-minute boat ride from provincial capital Gizo.
Opened in 2005 by its Swiss owner Hans Mergozzi, Sanbis pride itself as Solomons “Premier Resort”.
But its future is now in doubt after registered owners of the land filed a law suit in the High Court seeking the eviction of Mergozzi and the removal of his properties from the island.
Landowners, led by Tangaroa Tekea, have hired L & L Lawyers to take up their case.
They are asking the court to order the eviction of Mergozzi and the removal of all his properties from its current location.
Sanbis boasts six exclusive bungalows, with each unit having its own private beach, ensuite bathrooms with hot water and a terrace with a stunning view across the lagoon.
Land the resort was built was initially registered to the late Tekea Tearoba in April 1974. Tearoba died in 1979.
Court documents the Solomon Star cited said Mergozzi started dealing with the elder of the landowners, late Bauro Tekea for the lease of their land in 2003.
Mergozzi eventually signed a formal lease (Perpetual Estate – Parcel No. 097-008-0001) with late Tekea and two others, Toma Tekea and Tekaniwi Tekea in October 2003.
Court documents say initially, all the children of the Tekea Tearoba were involved in the negotiations to lease the land.
The documents say during the initial negotiations there were some terms that were agreed to in principle by Mergozzi, but which were not included in the lease agreement.
These include provision of employment opportunities for the Tekea family members, that only 10 bungalows will be built, and that only half of the land would be leased to Mergozzi.
But by 2010, landowners claimed Mergozzi set them aside and isolated them from all negotiations involving the lease and concentrated only on the family elder, Bauro Tekea.
Disappointed, landowners through Tangaroa Tekea consulted the Public Solicitor’s office, and lawyer Miriam Lidimani wrote to late Bauro Tekea outlining their family’s disagreements of his concealed dealings with Mergozzi.
Landowners say they were surprised to receive a response letter from their elder who was known to have no ability to read and write.
Documents show by January 2010, and without the knowledge of the whole Tekea family, their land was registered to the name of late Bauro Tekea only,
And in the same year, the land was leased again to Mergozzi by Bauro Tekea.
Under the lease Mergozzi is required to pay annual rental of $4,000 to Bauro Tekea and $1,000 each to five other family members.
The lease also stated the annual rent will be reviewed every five years.
The documents claimed after Bauro Tekea died, his siblings requested a copy of the lease, but Mergozzi refused to give them. He instead told them if they wanted a copy, they have to get it for $20,000.
The landowners also claimed following the passing of Bauro Tekea, Mergozzi started refusing to cooperate with them.
Because of this, Tangaroa Tekea, on behalf of the family, applied to the Registrar of Titles and registered a caveat over the land on 17 March 2015.
However, they said despite the caveat, Mergozzi still refused to cooperate or discuss reviewing the lease agreement with them.
In June 2016, the family took another step and registered the land in their name.
According to the court documents, despite this step, Mergozzi still refused to deal with them as legal title holders of the land.
By 2017, relations between the two parties got worse that rental payments have to be made through the Gizo police.
It’s understood the landowners have now leased the land to a new company.
When contacted yesterday for comments, Mergozzi insisted he had a 60-year valid lease over the land.
He also stated that he had not missed paying land rental to the landowners since the lease was signed
Mergozzi said his lawyer will file a response to the claims in the coming days.
He also claimed one Shane Kennedy was behind the move by the landowners to pursue the matter in court.