The FRU have made no statement on the matter and the Fiji media have been typically asleep at the wheel but Fijileaks has confirmed Tabualevu’s departure from two sources. But this major crisis could ripple even wider with both the Fiji 7s coach Ben Ryan and the Fiji 15s coach John Mckee and his manager Tony Thorpe now believed to be seriously considering their positions.
For Ryan the issue is particularly pressing because one of the casualties, alongside Tabualevu, of Francis ‘Killer’ Kean’s chairmanship of the FRU is Ryan’s trusted 7s manager Paula Biutanaseva. Ryan has skirmished with FRU chairman Francis Kean – brother in law of Frank Bainimarama, and appointed by Bainimarama to the board in May this year – as Kean would like to rotate the 7s manager position around two or three individuals. Ryan has made clear he wants the exact opposite – a manager who is basically a full-time professional, a repository of knowledge, not a series of part-timers with skin-deep knowledge.
In addition, Ryan has fought against Kean on a number of occasions with the FRU chairman trying to force the release of national 7s players Aisake Katonibau, Viliame Mata and Emosi Mulevoro earlier this year from Ryan’s training commitments in order to turn out for Suva, of which Kean remains president.
For McKee and Thorpe – who won widespread acclaim for their transformation of the Fiji side at the recent Rugby World Cup – both are not short of offers and could be expected to walk into any number of high-paying positions. A McKee-Thorpe ticket has already been widely touted, for instance, as one that could take over the Japanese national team, following the resignation of former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones. The alternative – bending their knee for the next four years to an oafish, incompetent and bullying chairman who is banned from most rugby-playing nations because of his conviction for manslaughter in 2007 – must seem increasingly easy to walk away from.
It’s known that McKee and Thorpe valued Tabualevu and his commitment to trying to squeeze a world-class budget from the government and from the local corporate sector so that the 2015 Rugby World Cup could be as best-prepared as possible. This was especially impressive because of the ludicrous Vodafone sponsorship deal that Tabualevu inherited. Unlike anybody else on the FRU board, Tabualevu has an unmatched career in the Fiji corporate sector, having worked at Carpenters Group, Morris Hedstrom, Telecom Fiji and TFL’s subsidiary TransTel.
By contrast Kean’s career has been exclusively tied to that of his coup-leading brother-in-law. As has the career of the deputy chairman – Maori legal activist Carl Ngamoki-Cameron who blew into Fiji following the December 2006 coup and has attached himself shamelessly to Bainimarama and his cronies.
Ngamoki-Cameron’s New Zealand legal references http://enterpriselaw.co.nz/carl-ngamoki-cameron/ include the claim that he lawyered the ‘refinancing of Air Pacific’s fleet of aircraft’. This was done through a controversial Dublin-registered corporate entity Waqavuka Financing Ltd in January 2013 by now-discredited Air Pacific CEO Dave Pflieger, who was CEO when Waqavuka was created, and in whose name Air Pacific’s (now Fiji Airways’) three Airbus A330s are registered and the financing arranged.
In another dubious distinction, in October 2011 Ngamoki-Cameron became the first and only chairman and director of a South Pacific Stock Exchange-listed company to be removed following an urgent ‘special audit’. The ‘special audit’ of Fijian Holdings Ltd has never been released but in a statement to the SPCE, FHL said the audit was ordered ‘regarding the allegations received against Carl Ngamoki-Cameron [and] is focused on corporate governance related issues.’
Tabualevu’s departure effectively paints the CEO position of the Fiji Rugby Union as one of the least desirable positions in world rugby with a ridiculously high turnover because of constant meddling by, and friction with, Bainimarama and his goons. Tabualevu – whose father Inoke was the coach of the Fiji team that beat the British Lions in 1977 – was appointed in August 2014. Prior to that the position was held on a temporary basis by Dr Berlin Kafoa, a serving FRU board member. Kafoa served under Bainimarama-appointed chairman Filimone Waqabaca who tried to hire former Teivovo publisher Jeremy Duxbury as CEO in December 2013 but this was stopped by the PM’s office. Previously the CEO’s position was held by Manasa Baravilala from November 2011 to September 2013.
The FRU has been under the defacto control of Bainimarama since 2011 when he was able to force the independently elected board to step down by threatening to withhold government funds for 2011 Rugby World Cup preparations. Of the three chairmen since two were appointed to the board directly by the PM (Kean and former PS Finance Waqabaca) and the third was then Land Force commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga who reported to Bainimarama. Bainimarama’s son-in-law and nephew are employees of the FRU, his brother-in-law is chairman, and his daughter – as CEO of the Fiji Sports Council – controls the budget for the Fiji Sports Commission.
Ironically much of Tabualevu’s time as CEO was spent taking the blame for a mess that he had nothing to do with: the Waqabaca-board’s decision to consolidate all sponsorship rights into a single package in early 2014 and sell this to a consortium of Bainimarama-friendly entitles led by Vodafone, but also including CJ Patel, Fiji Airways and Home Finance. The public were told the deal was worth $8m a year, $40m over five years.
But the reality was very different because the Vodafone consortium conned the FRU into including tens of millions of dollars of marketing spend and worthless sponsor products into the contract. The cash amount that the FRU receives each year is around $2.5m per year and from that more than $1m per year has had to be paid out to FRCA as VAT levied against the larger $8m value shown in the contract.
Tabualevu joined the FRU almost 18 months after that deal was signed but it was Tabualevu who the FRU board hid behind when the provincial unions increasingly expressed their fury. So outrageous was the scam that Vodafone pulled on the hopelessly-out-of-their depth Waqabaca board that Tabualevu penned a letter to Vodafone CEO Pradeep Lal on June 12 2015 giving Vodafone a 30-day termination notice on the $40m sponsorship agreement.
He alleged in the letter that Vodafone was in breach for failing to account for more than $5 million worth of promised marketing support in the first year of the agreement, and he went on to describe Vodafone’s conduct with the FRU as ‘at best misleading, at worst fraudulent’.
But Vodafone was able to kiss up to the regime, and outmanoeuvre Tabualevu, by paying more than $60,000 to cover the airfares, hotel and transport costs for Bainimarama and his wife to attend the opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup where, customarily, Bainimarama’s reputation for bringing bad luck on national teams he watches resulted in Fiji losing to England 35-11.