A Fiji official told CNN – Grace Road Group has established
tight connections with high-ranking government officials which makes
it harder to arrest them in Fiji even if they are involved in crimes.”
– Korea Times
Question: Why is the FF government keeping a stolid silence on the highly questionable activities of Grace Road “Church” – refusing even to comment to the world’s top media organisations on “ eye witness accounts”.
The BBC, CNN, Korea Times, Australia’s ABC and Radio New Zealand International have all run stories in the past fortnight based on interviews with members of the Grace Road cult who have managed to escape.
In all of these stories allegations continue to surface about workers at the Grace Road farm in Navua being held against their wishes, being abused and made to “work like slaves”.
Every one of these media reports said they could not obtain comments from the Fiji government on the issue.
A documentary by a South Korean television station aired last month shows footage of cult leader Shin Ok-ju beating her followers.
Fiji Times on Saturday and Sunday also ran articles based on interviews with former ‘members’ who escaped from the Navua farm. The two people interviewed said they were being forced to work “like slaves” 14-15 hours a day, seven days a week without pay as they were told they were shareholders in the Grace Road businesses.
They receive work permits on arrival in Fiji and this is stamped on their passports. The passports are confiscated by the Grace Road authorities – supporting claims that the workers are being held here forcibly.
Korean authorities say most of the ‘members’ sold everything they possessed and gave the money to the Church. Now even if they want to go back, they have nothing to go back to. They are penniless.
It is time to ask point blank: what is the connection between Grace Road operations and the Fiji First government which is, to all intents and purposes, not only condoning such illicit activities in Fiji but has also granted lucrative multi-million government contracts to Grace Road Construction.
Such contracts reportedly amount to more than $60 million according to one source. The source claims work done by the GR construction is shoddy and substandard.
Then there is the strange case of the six Korean nationals who were arrested following a joint raid on GR by Fiji and Korean Police in mid-August . But when the men appeared in Lautoka Court for deportation, the case was dismissed following intervention by the Solicitor General’s office.
According to Korea Times : “These six people were to appear in a Fiji court the next day. But they were released after an emergency conference between the solicitor general, and high level officials of the Immigration Service,” Korean police said.
The raid and arrests that followed were conducted by the Fiji Police and Immigration authorities working jointly with the Korean police. This indicates that the Solicitor General intervened to stop Police and Immigration from deporting the arrested Koreans.
There has been no explanation from the Solicitor General’s office to say why it intervened.
Among the six was Daniel Kim, son of Grace Road founder Shin Ok-ju who was arrested in Seoul in early August, facing charges of holding 400 members of her group forcibly in Fiji.
Last year, Grace Road received the PM’s Primary Industry Business Excellence Award (pic above) with the comment, “Grace Road Group successfully demonstrates how innovative farming methods, passion and a strong desire for quality can lead to excellence.”
But as Radio NZ cynically points out: “…if South Korean prosecutors are correct, that innovation and passion which was rewarded by Mr Bainimarama would have been helped along by a dose of slavery and brutality.”
Grace Road began operations in Fiji in 2014 from a 50-year lease on 33 acres of land in Navua. According to a Navua chief, they had promised to hire the locals as employees, teach them farming techniques, build schools, homes and other infrastructure. But nothing has come through.
Since then GR has expanded into commercial activities, holding 60 businesses in Fiji ranging from restaurants and coffee shops to Missha cosmetics, skin and hair care beauty salons, construction, and a hardware store. Some of which are activities reserved for locals and therefore, in breach of Fiji’s immigration and investment laws.
One of the girls who escaped to Korea said the aim is to get Daniel Shin into a high government post so that he can be in a position to influence greater expansion for Grace Road.
All the media organisations mentioned above have gone to the extent of commenting there is close connections between Grace Road and high officials of the Fiji Government.