The Cairns-based Cape York Institute has confirmed its chief executive, property developer Gummi Fridriksson, is on extended leave without pay.
The institute’s group chief executive, Duncan Murray, issued a statement saying Mr Fridriksson “has been and continues to be on extended leave without pay to enable him to concentrate on his business interests in Papua New Guinea”.
Mr Murray issued a glowing endorsement of Mr Fridriksson, whose Port Moresby property venture attracted international notoriety after settlers’ homes were bulldozed.
“Whilst at the institute, (Mr Fridriksson) discharged his duties diligently and professionally,” Mr Murray said.
As revealed in The Australian last Tuesday, Mr Fridriksson is the secretary of the PNG-registered Paga Hill Development Company, which acquired a commercial lease over a prime piece of real estate overlooking the harbour in Port Moresby in a land deal that was heavily criticised by a parliamentary committee in the Pacific nation.
The PHDC insists the granting of the lease was proper, despite a government exemption from tender, and that all lease covenants were complied with and appropriate rentals paid.
The British-based International State Crime Initiative - affiliated with King’s College London and the universities of Hull and Ulster - published a report last week heavily criticising the land deal, which culminated in the demolition of settlers’ homes by PHDC in May, acting on a court-ordered eviction notice.
The settlers, some whose families have lived at Paga Hill since the mid-20th century, have refused to move to make way for the multi-million-dollar development that Mr Fridriksson’s company wants to build.
PHDC says it has “set a new precedent in PNG” for compassionate treatment of settlers, who have no underlying title to the land on which they live.
“PHDC has spent more than $2 million to help resolve the settler issue out of goodwill and good heart.
“Our efforts should be congratulated,” the company said.
Mr Fridriksson was promoted to the position of chief executive at the Cape York Institute last year and has directed Noel Pearson’s radical program of welfare reform for several years.
The institute said Mr Fridriksson had been on leave without pay for the past month but did not indicate how long the leave will extend.