Consultant with ties to Tongan royal family wanted for arrest in SFO’s iwi trust probe
A consultant with links to the Tongan royal family has a warrant out for his arrest after being charged in a Serious Fraud Office investigation but is believed to no longer be in New Zealand.
Soane Ramanlal was charged by the SFO alongside prominent business and Te Arawa leader Roger Pikia last November after an investigation spanning years.
Pikia is accused of and denies a large scale fraud worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while he was chairman of the Te Arawa River Iwi Trust (Tarit). The trust acts to represent three iwi within the Upper Waikato river catchment area.
Pikia, who is an adviser to the Māori King, first appeared in the Auckland District Court last month.
However, Ramanlal currently has an active warrant for his arrest, the Herald can reveal.
The 62-year-old was not at his more than $3 million five-bedroom Epsom home this week and is believed to be currently in Tonga, where he has links to the Pacific nation’s royal family.
Ramanlal was a close business associate of the late Tongan King Siaosi Tupou V, also known as George Tupou V, during his time as the chief executive of Shoreline, which held a monopoly over Tonga’s electricity generation and distribution.
Shoreline, previously the state-owned Tonga Electricity Power Board, was given to King Tupou V on a 20-year lease when he was a Crown Prince and sold in 2006 to New Zealand electricity company Northpower.
During the violent pro-democracy riots in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa in late 2006, property owned by the royal family was targeted, including Shoreline’s offices where six people – believed to be rioters – died in a fire.
Ramanlal reportedly fled in a private jet to Auckland during the riots.
The SFO has accused Ramanlal of conspiring with Pikia to commit the offence of obtaining by deception between January and June 2016, a charging document seen by the Herald reads.
He allegedly reached an agreement with Pikia to obtain control over cutting rights in the ‘Eua Forest from Tarit Holdings Limited (THL), by allegedly omitting to disclose he owned TW Global Corp with intent to deceive the THL board.
The plantation on ‘Eua island is about 500 hectares of predominantly Caribbean pine and is the only major forestry area in Tonga, according to a 2017 management plan for the kingdom’s forests and tree resources.
Ramanlal’s first court appearance was scheduled for November 10 last year in the Auckland District Court, court papers show, but he is yet to appear in court.
After Pikia appeared in court on December 16 the SFO said in a statement his co-defendant was not present during the hearing.
Court staff said Ramanlal’s case will be scheduled for a hearing when the warrant for his arrest has been executed.
Neither the SFO or NZ Police would comment when asked about Ramanlal’s arrest warrant.
Pikia, meanwhile, is due to appear in court again next month.
The 52-year-old 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 offence.
The charges are in relation to his role as chairman of Tarit and its investment company THL between 2014 and 2016, the SFO has said.
Pikia’s conspiracy charge is for his alleged agreement with Ramanlal.
He is also accused of having obtained $364,500 from Tarit through timesheets falsely representing his engagement in residual settlement negotiations, and attempting to obstruct or defeat the course of justice by altering minutes of a THL board meeting.
The SFO further alleges Pikia, while acting as an agent of THL, corruptly offered to accept or solicited a payment of $150,000 as a reward for lending his support as a board member in favour of buying a Rotorua property.
It is also alleged he advised THL to enter into a contract with Ka Ora Ltd, a health food company Pikia is a director and previous shareholder of, to buy shares for $400,000 without disclosing he had agreed to receive shares to the same value as a gift.
Pikia, who stood aside as chairman of Tarit in November, told reporters outside court: “I strenuously deny these allegations and unequivocally state that we will be vigorously defending the charges.”
Tarit said in an earlier statement the legal action against Pikia was not impacting its ongoing operations.
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