~ A close associate of Fiji’s military strongman has revealed that he quit as defence minister yesterday because the regime is targeting the ownership of one of the country’s most successful exports, Fiji Water.
Epeli Ganilau quit yesterday while the self-described prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, is in China on undefined business.
Rumours have grown that the military wanted to take over Fiji Water, which is the top selling bottled water in the United States and likely to globally over take French bottled water.
It is privately owned by Los Angeles billionaires Stewart and Lynda Rae Resnick who also own Teleflora and the Franklin Mint.
Two years ago the military government tried to put a 20 cent per litre royalty on Fiji Water, but yielded to pressure from the company when they said they would pull out if taxed.
Fiji Water earns around US$150 million a year in sales and makes up 20 percent of Fiji exports and 3 per cent of its gross domestic product.
In martial law-controlled Fiji, where the media is heavily censored, rumours have grown that the military government wants to take over Fiji Water and force it into local ownership, as it did with the once Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times.
The military appointed attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was said to have ordered the deportation of Fiji Water’s CEO, David Roth.
Ganilau, who preceded Bainimarama as military commander, was a close supporter of the 2006 coup which ended Fiji’s democracy. He announced his resignation as defence minister yesterday, leaving the office within hours.
This morning he told the FijiLive website that Fiji Water was behind the resignation.
“We had some differences over the David Roth issue,” he said, adding he had resigned willingly.
He said he did not agree with discussions he had with the regime concerning Roth.
“I sent my resignation through email but it has not been acknowledged by the PM as yet.”