By Kalafi Moala
Auckland, New Zealand – A prominent Tongan business consultant, Soane Ramanlal, 62, has a warrant out for his arrest after being charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) alongside a prominent Maori business leader, Roger Pikia who was charged in November 2020.
An investigation that spanned four years concluded that Pikia was involved in a large scale fraud worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while he was chairman of the Te Arawa River Iwi Trust (Tarit Holdings Ltd.).
Tarit represents three iwi within the Upper Waikato river catchment area. Pikia is an advisor to the Maori King and first appeared in court in December.
In the meantime, the New Zealand Herald newspaper has revealed that Ramanlal has an active warrant for his arrest. He was not at his home in Epsom last week and is believed to be in his home country of Tonga.
Ramanlal was a close business associate of the late King George Tupou V, and was Chief Executive of the Shoreline (Electricity Company) that belonged to the king and managed Tonga’s electricity generation and distribution.
The state-owned Tonga Electricity Power Board was given to King George on a 20-year lease when he was Crown Prince, and sold in 2006 to New Zealand electricity company, Northpower. But the sale never took place when riots broke out in November 2006, and the Shoreline Building was a target for destruction.
Eight people – believed to be rioters – died during the fire at the Shoreline Building.
Ramanlal is being accused by SFO of conspiring with Pikia to commit the offense of obtaining by deception between January – June 2016, a charging document.
He allegedly reached an agreement with Pikia to obtain control over cutting rights in the ‘Eua Forest for an undisclosed amount from Tarit Holdings Limited (THL), by allegedly omitting to disclose he owned TW Global Corp with intent to deceive the THL board.
The 500 hectares plantation in ‘Eua are predominantly Caribbean pine, and is the only major forestry in Tonga.
Ramanlal’s first court appearance was scheduled for 10 November 2020 at the Auckland District Court, but he is yet to appear in court. Pikia appeared in court on 16 December 2020, and the SFO issued a statement that his co-defendant was not present in court during the hearing.
Court staff told the New Zealand Herald that Ramanlal’s case will be scheduled for a hearing when the warrant for his arrest has been executed.
The 52-year-old Pikia is charged with obtaining by deception, corrupt acceptance of gift by an agent, receiving a secret reward for procuring a contract, attempting to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to commit an offense. The conspiracy charge is for his alleged agreement with Ramanlal.
Pikia stood aside as chairman of Tarit in November. He told reporters outside court: “I strenuously deny these allegations and unequivocally state that we will be vigorously defending the charges.”